Three Years Later, The Isle of Mull, Summer, 1561
“Will ye miss the Campbell Castle?” Luthais asked as he and Valora saw the boats at Ardtornish.
“I will nae miss it so badly. We shall return in the spring. Tis’ nice to have two homes, but I prefer Mull for the winter. I like to watch the storms rollin’ in off the sea,” Valora replied, climbing down from Ailean’s back as they came to the harbourside.
A boat was waiting for them, and the same fisherman who had first sailed them to Mull all those years ago came to greet them. Valora and Luthais had spent the summer months at the Campbell castle. As Valora had said, it was a second home to them, and it was Luthais who held the honour of being its master. Much had happened in the intervening years, but peace, at last, had come, and the two clans – Martins and Campbells – lived together in peace.
“Ye and yer storms. I still cannae understand why ye like to watch them as ye dae,” Luthais replied, smiling at Valora, who laughed.
“Tis’ the power of them. They remind me I am but a tiny creature amid a magnificent world,” she replied.
Just then, a voice called out behind them, and Valora turned to see their three-year-old son stumbling towards them, closely pursued by his wetnurse.
“Oh, the lad is too much. He leapt down from the horse, mistress, right out of my arms,” the woman said, hurrying to catch the boy running straight towards his father.
“Ah, the lad is just excited, Mistress Macguire. He is happy to see his home. Is that nae right, Callum?” Luthais said, jumping down from his horse and scooping the boy up in his arms.
Callum was a boisterous child, with a shock of blonde hair and bright blue eyes. He tilted his head to one side, playing with Luthais’ beard, as Valora came to take him in her arms.
“Did ye run away from Mistress Macguire? Ye are a naughty thing, bless ye,” she said, and Luthais handed Callum to her as he directed the soldiers accompanying them to board the waiting boats.
“If we sail now, we shall make Mull before nightfall. I hope we shall find my father has the hearths laid and a feast awaitin’ us. The journey has been long, and I am ready to sleep in my own bed,” he said.
It took half an hour or so to load the boats, and the landlord of “The Mermaid’s Rest” brought them refreshment whilst they waited. It was late autumn, and the trees on the island were turning every shade of red and yellow. Valora was eager to get home, for the journey had tired her, and she, too, was yearning for her own bed, having spent the past few months on heather and forest floor.
“Are we goin’ home, mother?” Callum asked, gazing up at Valora with wide, questioning eyes, and Valora nodded.
“Aye, we soon will, and yer grandfather will be there to greet us,” she said, sitting with him on her lap as the men prepared the boats.
As they boarded, a fair breeze was blowing across the bay, and the horses were taken on a larger boat, steered by the soldiers. Valora, Luthais, Callum, and the wet nurse sailed with the fisherman, and they made good headway across the waters, coming in sight of the cove an hour or so after leaving port.
“Tis’ a fine sight,” Luthais said, glancing at Valora, who nodded.
The jetty had long since been repaired, and several dwellings were built around the cove, where some boats were moored for the fisherman. The path up the cliffside had been greatly improved so that a horse and cart might easily take any visitors to the island as far as the castle and the settlements surrounding it.
“Will we see ye on the mainland before the winter, Laird?” the fisherman asked as they made landfall a short while later.
Luthais shook his head.
“I like my island, and tis’ here where my true responsibilities lie. We are pleased here, and the mainland is filled with other folk’s troubles. I feel a weight off my shoulders when I sail across the bay and put in here,” he said, stepping onto the jetty and helping Valora and the others onto dry land.
The watchmen spotted the boats, and a horse and cart stood waiting for them. Raderoin drove it, and he hailed them as he came to greet them.
“Welcome home, Laird. I trust yer journey was a happy one?” he said as Callum ran to greet him.
“Aye, but tis’ good to be back here. What news have ye? Is my father well?” Luthais said.
“Very well, and our news is as it always is – we are left alone, and the outside world doesnae trouble us,” Raderoin replied.
He helped them with their belongings and the boat carrying the soldiers and horses now put in so that the whole party could ride together up the cliffside track towards the castle. Much had changed since the first time Valora and Luthais had set foot on the island. Trees had been cleared, and the cobbled path leading through the forest had been repaired and made wider. It led into a village, where crofts and workshops had been built around a central square. The chapel where they had been married was repaired, and its bells rang out each day for the services there. But which the castle had seen the most dramatic change, and as they approached, Valora could not help but marvel afresh at all they had achieved.
“I never tire of seein’ it,” she said, gazing up at the castle gates, which stood open to welcome them.
Once the trees and ivy had grown up all around, the walls now stood tall and proud.
The moat had been refilled, and a new bridge led across. The gates opened up into the courtyard, where stables, workshops, and storerooms were built along the walls. The tiled cobbles, with their mosaics, had been repaired, and the banners of the clan fluttered from the turrets above. It was a magnificent sight, and Valora smiled to gaze at all they had achieved.
“Tis’ good to be home, and look, there is a familiar face to greet us,” Luthais replied, pointing to the steps leading up to the keep.
Alastaire was waiting for them, and Callum clapped his hands together in delight at the sight of his grandfather coming towards them.
“I was goin’ to meet ye at the cove, but ye have made a strong headwind and arrived before even I could saddle a horse,” he said, as Callum leapt out of Mistress Macguire’s arms and flung himself on his grandfather.
“I rode the whole way myself,” he said, and Alastaire laughed.
“All the way from the Campbell castle? Ye are a brave lad, Callum,” he said, glancing at the long-suffering wet nurse with a smile.
“We have much to tell ye, father. But for now, are the fires lit and a hearty meal prepared?” Luthais asked, and his father nodded.
“Aye, we have been expectin’ ye these days gone by. Come inside and share yer stories. What news of Leighton? Did ye break yer journey at Culmor?” he asked as he led them inside.
There was much exchange of news. Valora and Luthais had spent two days with Leighton, and they had brought his greetings with them to Mull. The great hall – now restored and painted with beautiful murals – was filled with clansmen, all of them eager to hear of their laird’s adventures on the mainland.
“Tis’ quite a welcome ye have prepared for us, father,” Luthais said, taking his place at the head of the table.
Valora sat down next to him, feeling a sense of fatigue come over her, even as the feasting began.
“Mother, I want to stay,” Callum said, his tone whining and irritable, as Mistress Macguire tried to take him away.
“But ye are tired, Master Callum. Tis’ time for ye to rest,” the wet nurse replied.
“Let him stay a moment. He is…” Valora began, but she suddenly felt terribly light-headed, and she clutched at Luthais, who turned to her with concern.
“Valora? Are ye all right?” he asked, and she nodded as Alastaire rushed to bring her something to drink.
“I just feel… a little tired, tis’ all,” she said, but she knew something was wrong.
“Come now; we shall take ye to bed. Ye have ridden many miles today and endured the crossin’ on the waters. Tis’ nay wonder ye are tired,” Luthais said, his face etched with concern.
Valora was helped up to their chambers, and she felt a sense of relief at being in her bed. A fire was kindled, and Esme was summoned to tend to her. Callum was put to bed, but Valora insisted on staying at her side.
“Some herbal tea to soothe ye, mistress,” Esme said, appearing a few moments with a steaming cup on a tray.
Valora smiled weakly. The ride from the Campbell castle had been exhilarating, and she and Luthais had raced together across the moorlands. But that day, something had changed, and she felt weak and feverish. She was grateful for the warmth of the fire and for the tea, which brought with it a sense of calm and relief.
“I shall keep vigil tonight; I shall nae rest,” Luthais said, his hand clasped in hers.
“Tis’ nay need, Luthais. Ye will get nae sleep if ye dae,” she replied, not wishing to cause him trouble.
But she knew he would insist on staying. He looked at her with concern and shook his head.
“We must find out what is wrong with ye,” he said, but Esme now stepped forward and smiled.
“But dae ye nae realise what is wrong with the mistress?” she asked, and both Valora and Luthais looked at her in surprise.
“What dae ye mean? She is sick. We must summon a healer from the mainland. I shall sail across the waters myself tomorrow and bring the finest in all of Scotland,” Luthais exclaimed, but Esme only laughed.
“Ye daenae need a healer, my laird. Tis’ simple enough to know what is wrong. The mistress is with child,” she said, and Valora gasped.
“How… how dae ye know?” she asked, and Esme smiled.
“Think back to yer firstborn. Ye lay here in just the same way and complained of just the same ailments. I have been a midwife to enough women to know the signs. Ye are to have a baby, mistress. There is nothin’ to worry about,” she said, and Valora breathed a sigh of relief.
In the back of her mind, she had wondered about the possibility of being with child. Esme was right, the signs were the same, and Valora now took hold of Luthais’ hand and smiled.
“Ye see, there was nothin’ to worry about,” she said, and he shook his head.
“I am sorry, I just… the thought of losin’ ye, tis’ too much to bear,” he said, but she shook her head.
“I am stronger than ye think,” she replied.
Esme left them, and Valora closed her eyes as Luthais lay next to her on the bed. He put his arms around her and kissed her on the neck.
“I love ye so much, Valora. And to bring another child into the world tis’ the greatest blessin’ I could imagine,” he whispered.
She ran her fingers through his hair, her eyes still closed, as she imagined all that was to come. This was the family they had dreamed of, the legacy they had desired. The future would be very different from the past, a future in which only happiness lay ahead.
“We are blessed,” she replied, as he placed a gentle kiss on her lips, and together, they looked forward to all that was to come and gave thanks for all that had been and all that had brought them together.
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