Highlander’s Cursed Touch – Extended Epilogue
Ever since Camden was a tiny lad, he’d always adored the coming of autumn to Strome Castle. Though the sun shone high above, there was a crispness to the air as the leaves on trees began to change. They would shed all their emerald finery and cover themselves in flaming reds, golds, and oranges.
Though he was meant to be checking ledgers and reports in his study, he couldn’t help but glance out the window every few moments at the magnificent view below. Summer was gone for the year, and it was time to start bringing in the harvest and preparing for winter. There were various figures and reports about the scheduled harvests for Ardaneaskan, Slum Bay, and even Lochcarron.
Each year, all three villages were tasked with providing a portion of their harvest to Strome castle, but Camden had cut that tithe in half for all his people this year. He wanted to begin his Lairdship fairly and justly. He thought it would signal to all the souls under his rule that he did not intend to squeeze them for every penny they had. Strome and clan Haggan were more prosperous than ever. There was no reason to bleed his people dry.
He heard Rory’s footsteps before he entered, and when his general knocked, Camden called for him to enter. He stood up from his desk and gestured for Rory to approach.
“Good afternoon, my laird. If yer busy I could return; its nothing too urgent.”
Camden shrugged and gestured towards his desk.
“Not too busy. I have a few missives to write, but they can wait for now.”
Rory nodded and smiled.
“A laird’s work is never done. Harvest season is usually a busy one, but if anyone can handle the extra duties it’s ye sire.”
There was clear pride in Rory’s gaze and Camden felt gratitude flood him. Many people helped him keep Strome up and running, but Rory was his backbone and his right hand. Camden could think of no man he trusted half as much as Rory, nor anyone whose opinion he admired more.
“Speaking of extra duties, I came to tell ye that young Arran has been spending his spare time with some of our soldiers in the barrack’s training grounds.”
Camden cocked his head to the side. Arran had been working in the castle smithy and sometimes he would serve as one of Camden’s grooms, but he had no idea the lad had an interest in the martial arts. Rory continued with his revelation.
“I think he found a real joy in combat after that scrimmage with the Reraig outlaws. He might be scrawny, but he’s got a long reach, and he’s determined to learn how to yield a blade like a real warrior.”
It was true that Arran played a major part in helping to find and capture the band of outlaws who’d been plaguing Reraig forest and the surrounding areas of late. Emily had taken advantage of the proliferation of bandits and thieves in his lands, but Camden had worked hard to see those scoundrels driven out once and for all.
“So, does he have any skill?”
The two men shared a knowing smile between them and Rory chuckled. Plenty of lads dreamed of becoming warriors and finding glory in battle, but many quickly learned that the reality of training with seasoned warriors was very different than youthful dreams.
“I will admit I was skeptical at first, but I think with time he could become a formidable fighter and an asset to our clan.”
Camden thought back to the night Bonnie saved his life from Emily’s hired fiends. Arran had shown bravery then, just as he did when he guided Rory’s battalion to the outlaw hideaway in Reraig forest.
“Well then, maybe we should find him a bed in the barracks. I have enough grooms; we could always use another capable warrior in our ranks.”
They were both silent for a moment, and Camden wondered if Rory was thinking about Bearnard as well. His former challenger would spend the rest of his days below deck, rowing oars in darkness for his crimes. A few of their best warriors had died at the hands of the Reraig brigands as well and it was true, they needed new recruits to fill those voids in their clan.
Rory stayed for a little longer, but he had duties just like Camden. When the older man was gone, Camden gathered his papers and put them away in his desk drawer. He thought about Bonnie and where she might be. When he rose that morning, his wife had already left their chambers to start her day. They usually spent the morning together, breaking their fast and talking about the day to come.
He didn’t think she had any reason to be upset with him, but Camden wanted to make sure everything was alright. So the laird left his study and headed downstairs. He would try Muira’s rooms first because Bonnie spent the lion’s share of her time there. Muira was healthier and more vibrant than Camden had ever seen her, and he could tell that seeing her thrive brought Bonnie immense comfort.
Camden found Muira reading a book by the fireplace in a wide-backed wooden chair. She smiled warmly when he entered and set it aside.
“Well hello, my laird!”
He approached her and placed a gentle kiss on Muira’s cheek.
“Good day to ye, Muira. How are ye?”
She gave a little stretch and gestured towards the sunlight streaming through her window.
“Autumn is upon us, and it is my favorite season, my dear boy. I am blessed beyond measure.”
Bonnie had shared with him how almost all the signs of Muira’s lingering illness were gone now. She was hopeful that they would not return, and though Camden was no healer, he believed that Muira was free from her symptoms once and for all.
“Aye, tis a beautiful season indeed. And the harvest will be upon us soon to fill up our larders for the winter.”
Muira’s smile spread, and Camden noticed a mischievous look in her eyes.
“So what brings ye here this afternoon then? Bonnie says ye’ve been very busy with yer lairdly duties as of late. I’m sure ye haven’t come just to gossip with old Muira.”
Camden felt a little fissure of guilt and did his best to push it aside. He loved visiting with Muira, but she was right; he didn’t have much time these days to sit and talk with her like he often wanted to.
“Forgive me, Muira. I did stop by in search of Bonnie. Have ye seen her today?”
She nodded enthusiastically.
“Aye, she came to see me when I was breaking my fast. I believe she said there was work to be done in the stillroom today, so I would guess that’s where ye can find her.”
That had been Camden’s second destination, followed by the library. Bonnie had spent the past few months making the stillroom her own and using it as a headquarters for her healing practice. From that stillroom, Bonnie oversaw the health and wellbeing of everyone within Strome castle, and she did it with ease.
“I hate to leave so swiftly, but I must find her so I can get back to my duties. But what if the three of us sup together here tonight?”
Muira agreed to have them both back for the evening meal, and Camden gave her another kiss on the cheek. When he pulled away, she grabbed his sleeve and stopped him. Camden saw that same mischievous look in her eyes again.
“When ye find her, be wary of her mood. She is a tinge melancholy today. But I’m sure ye will know just what to say to cheer her up.”
Camden wanted to ask why Muira thought Bonnie was feeling melancholy, but he thought better of it. The look in Muira’s eye told him that she wanted Camden to go see for himself. So he bid her farewell and headed towards the stillroom and Bonnie.
He didn’t spot Bonnie right away when he entered the stillroom doors. Then he heard glass shattering in the distance, and then Bonnie cried out in frustration. Camden rushed through the room towards the small closet in the rear. Sure enough, he found Bonnie within. She was kneeling on the floor, sweeping up broken glass. Tears were misting in her eyes, and she shook her head back and forth. She didn’t even notice that Camden had approached the closet.
“Bonnie, are ye alright?”
She seemed startled by the sound of his voice, but her shoulders relaxed when she realized it was Camden. Then the tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“No, no, I’ve made a mess of everything! Everything!”
He was concerned by her heightened emotional state. Clearly, there was something wrong beyond the broken glass on the floor. Camden knelt before her until they were eye level. He took her hands in his, and they were shaking.
“Darling, it is only some broken glass. Tell me now, what ails ye? It must be something else.”
Bonnie wiped the tears from her cheeks with one shaking hand. She nodded and took his hands again as if she needed strength to speak aloud.
“I have been looking around the stillroom all day, and I found no trace of mugwort, nor any shepherd’s purse. I looked through the herb garden as well and found not a sprig of either!”
He felt her whole body begin to shake and Camden started to worry about her mental state. He didn’t know much about herblore, but he knew that both things she was looking for were plants used in herbal medicines.
“Sh, sh, dinnae fret Bonnie, all is well. They’re only herbs; we can get ye some more, perhaps down in the village. What do ye need mugwort and shepherd’s purse for so urgently my love?”
Bonnie looked up at him, and though the tears no longer filled her eyes, he could see that she was preoccupied with something and that she was reluctant to tell him.
“Come now, ye know that ye can tell me anything. Whatever it is, we can face it together.”
She nodded and then let him help her back to her feet. He held her close for a moment and felt her breathing begin to regulate. He could feel her heart beating wildly, and Camden could not fathom what might have happened to make her so upset.
“They are herbs to aid women in childbirth. Shepherd’s purse is used to stay excess bleeding of the womb. Mugwort eases labor pains and cleanses the womb once the birthing is done.”
Camden tried to think of any women in the castle who were expecting who might need such herbs. He could not think of any.
“Who needs these herbs? Is it a woman in the village?”
He leaned back to see the look on her face. Bonnie shook her head and then took a deep breath. She did not meet his eyes.
“It is I who needs them. At least I will need them when my time comes.”
At first, Camden’s mind couldn’t comprehend her response. Of course, she needed the herbs as Strome’s healer. But then his own heart began to beat faster in his chest. What did she mean by when her time came?
“Bonnie, are ye telling me that yer with child?”
Her eyes filled with tears again, and her voice was barely more than a whisper.
“I am not sure, but I haven’t had my courses for three moons now. The signs are all there, but I cannot be sure. How can I be sure?”
Camden could feel the frantic energy building inside her again, so he pulled her close to him and began to stroke her hair. If she was pregnant, it might explain some of these erratic emotions plaguing her now.
“Does Muira know?” Camden’s voice was mildly amused.
“Aye, I told her of my suspicions this morning.” If Bonnie noticed his amusement, she didn’t make it known. Instead, she burrowed her face into his chest as if to hide from the world around them.
This explained the mischievous glint in the old woman’s eyes earlier. She knew that Bonnie was feeling melancholy and sent Camden in to make her feel better. He smiled and kissed the top of his wife’s head.
“I’m so sorry, my love.”
Bonnie pushed away so that she could see his face. Her confused expression made him want to kiss her rosebud lips, but he restrained himself.
“Why are ye sorry? Ye’ve done nothing wrong, I-”
“I have been so wrapped up in my own duties, I dinnae notice until this morning that something might be amiss with ye.”
She shook her head and then raised one of his palms to her lips. She kissed the skin there, and then he reached out to caress her face. His thumb gently traced the soft skin of her jawline and her neck, staring down into her eyes as he’d done so many times before.
His wife’s eyes, and now the eyes of his child’s mother. The realization of her confession suddenly hit him. If she were pregnant, then Camden would be a father in half a year’s time. If she was pregnant, then they would be blessed with a child by the spring. He could potentially be a father by the time the buds returned to the trees.
“It is not yer fault, Camden. I dinnae know why I am so frightened. I have seen hundreds of infants come into this world, and I have never once been afraid…but now…”
Her voice trailed off, and Camden turned towards the door. He took Bonnie’s hand in his and pulled her through it back into the stillroom and the autumn sunlight.
“I cannae say for certain, being a mere man, but I believe that even midwives are permitted to feel some fear and nervousness when their own time comes. Ye musn’t be so hard on yerself wife.”
Bonnie nodded, but Camden could still see the concern in her eyes.
“Other than ye and Muira, no one knows. If I am with a child, it is still early yet. I am not even showing yet.”
Instinctively, Camden reached out and touched her stomach. It was still flat, but there was some hardness there now, just beneath the surface, that he hadn’t noticed before. Bonnie placed her hand over his own and then looked up into his face.
“Do ye think we’ll be good parents, Camden?”
So that was it then? He smiled and pulled her close again, and held her face between both his hands. He kissed her soft and slow and then pressed his forehead to hers. He closed his eyes, and a contented smile spread across his face.
“Whatever parents we are, I know that this child will never search for love or protection from either of us. Only time will tell what mistakes we might make raising a child of our own, but we will provide a loving family for this bairn no matter what happens. Mark my words.”
Finally, her face seemed to relax.
“Do ye promise?”
The last time Camden made a promise, it had been to his dying brother. When Camden swore to Evan that he would wed and sire an heir as soon as possible, he never could have imagined that he would find his true love in Ardaneaskan that very night.
But no matter how unorthodox their journey had been, it was all worth it. They would have each other for the rest of their lives and this new life growing in her belly would carry on their love after they were long gone.
“I swear it. I swear on my life.”
She took a deep breath and laid her head on his chest in silence. But Camden didn’t mind. They didn’t need any more words to explain their love for each other. They were family, soul mates, and soon they would be parents. If there ever had been a curse laid upon his house, Bonnie’s coming had surely banished it to the four winds forevermore.
Never was there a man with more blessings to be thankful for in all of Scotland, of that Camden was now convinced.
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