Son and Throne – Diana Knightley

Magnus stood at the end of the parapet watching east. His hair blew in the breeze. He squinted against the dawn, his shoulders broad, his feet squarely planted, arms crossed, watchful and intent. For a second I might have mistaken him for a present day man. He did look as he would on the boardwalk in Florida, watching out over the ocean. I was never sure what he was watching for: ships or storms? But something — watching the sky, the clouds, the horizon. Then his eyes would sweep up and down the beach: the south, for the storms, the north, for what? Nothing, just watching. But we weren’t in Florida. We were in Scotland in the eighteenth century. The year was 1705, summer, just past the harvest festival. A time for gathering the crops and working through the long days and into the short nights, preparations for winter — but here we were, not harvesting. We had a castle full of people. They had waited out the recent siege but were still here in case the siege began again. Magnus broke his gaze, turned to me, and smiled. He lifted an arm so I could give him a good morning hug.

“You were gone when I woke up.” “Aye, twas m’turn tae watch. I dinna want tae wake ye, since ye were up nursin’ in the night. Where is Isla?” “Emma took her to the nursery with Ben and Archie. I came to find you.” We hugged, wrapping my arms up under his. “Tell me what’s happening?” “The sun is risin’.” “Yes, I see that. But you are dutifully staring into it, so there must be more.” A group of four men emerged from the stairwell.

Magnus said, “Let me discuss our defenses with them for a moment, mo reul-iuil, and then we will go tae a private spot to speak.” It was my turn to stare out on the horizon, the misty fields, the deep green of the forest, a clear cloudless sky, and a beautiful sunrise heralding a good day, while Magnus and the men had a conversation that sounded cautious and concerned. Even though I couldn’t hear the words, it was easy to tell they were the words of ‘not knowing.’ Magnus took me by the hand and led me down the winding stone steps, the stairwell cold and unfortunately smelling as if someone had urinated in one of the corners. I held the edge of my tartan over my nose. “We need to have someone come clean that.” As we walked, we talked quietly of our guests. “Emma is with the bairn in the nursery, Quentin has taken Zach and James to the stables.” Magnus said, “Aye, I saw them go. They were followin’ Rob Ruadh and pretendin’ nae tae be followin’ him.

He is really known in your time?” As we neared the bottom of the steps we passed men going up, our path becoming more and more crowded. I pressed to the wall to let three men pass, while Magnus kept to the middle of the steps and made them skirt him. “Yes, he’s an outlaw, famous through history, there are movies about him and a drink named after him.” “Och, truthfully he is a verra uninterestin’ man. He is a thief, then will hae ye pay him tae protect ye from thieves. Ye canna trust him. Sean has warned the Earl tae remain guarded, but the Earl pays Rob Ruadh all the same, so Sean must do the guardin’.” We gained the ground floor. I said, “Maybe he gets more interesting? We’ll have to watch the movie someday.” “I will warn Master James and Chef Zach tae be cautious.

” He grinned. “Else they land on the wrong side of the law.” “It would be classic if our chef or our contractor got busted for cattle-rustling in the eighteenth century.” The courtyard teemed with humanity: noise and bustle and pressing activity. It freaking smelled like pigs baking in the heat of a Scottish day and it hadn’t even grown full day yet. This was a scent I would forget in the future, but once I returned it hit me like a furnace blast. Oh, right — smells terrible. “Where are we going?” “Just outside the gates.” We wound through the crowds milling around the courtyard. “We won’t be gone long?” “Nae.

” We passed through a side door, to the sunny east side of the castle. The smell was much better, the air fresh. I said, “Phew, that smelled like shit back there.” “Aye, we need tae return the villagers tae their homes.” He leaned against the stone castle walls, closing his eyes in the warmth of the morning sun. I stood with my hands on my hips facing him. “There is a lot, huh?” “Aye, there is. Tell me of Lady Mairead’s visit.” “I didn’t hear the storm, so it was sudden. She was at our house, at night — the kids were in bed.

She seemed preoccupied. She said there was trouble brewing in your kingdom. She knew about the siege here.” I looked down at the ground, remembering how odd Lady Mairead had been. “She asked to see Isla and got emotional when she saw her.” “Tis odd for her tae shew it.” “Yes, I agree. I mean, if I had to describe her in one word it would be — overwhelmed. But I doubt she’s ever been overwhelmed in her life.” “Did she disclose anythin’ of the trouble in m’kingdom?” “No, just that there was trouble… And then she gave me a gift — a painting.

It’s definitely a Picasso and guess what it’s of…?” Magnus squinted his eyes, looking amused. “I canna imagine? One of the sad clowns?” “No, it’s of her.” Magnus laughed. “My mother has given ye a painting of herself, painted by the man- child Picasso, her lover? Och, she is diabolical. What does she intend ye tae do with it?” “That’s what I wondered, but then I noticed a door in the back of the painting. It opens with my fingerprint, like your security doors in your kingdom. I guessed it was for sending her a message. Perhaps asking her for help.” His brow drew down. “Ye could put a letter inside it?” “Yes, that was my guess.

The next night, I…” His brow drew further down. “Look, Magnus, I did something that might have been a mistake. I just need you to not look at me like that — like you’re about to get mad.” “What dost ye mean, what did ye send tae her?” “And remember, the next night was when Archie told me Bella spoke to him at the park… How do you think that happened?” “I daena ken.” He rolled his hand. “Continue.” “…so I was freaking out. Zach and Emma were too. We gathered the kids. We rushed around packing shoes and coats — like we were really freaking out, totally.

I just want you to know, I was under duress.” “I ken ye were. What did ye do, Kaitlyn?” “There was a knocking on the door — who the hell was that? Like Bella? Was it Bella at our fucking house?” He shrugged. “You know what, Magnus, if that was fucking Bella at my house, if it was, you need to deal with that shit. No, strike that. You need to have dealt with it. How could she have been at our house?” “She has a vessel.” “Who gave her a fucking vessel? Did Lady Mairead give her a…? Shit.” He looked even more confused. “Before we escaped, I put the Johnne book in the back of the painting with a note that told her: we are in 1705 with you… I can’t remember how I worded it.

At the time it made sense.” “Why would ye give it tae her, Kaitlyn? Ye ken tis a verra important and dangerous book—” I threw my hands up exasperated. “I don’t know why! I felt like giving her a peace offering.” “She daena need a peace offering. She needed tae be told tae help us—” “You made it sound like she was on our side, like she was safe!” “She is still dangerous. I hae her under control but tis a verra guarded control.” “Fuck.” Lizbeth and Liam walked up the path from the direction of the village. “How are ye, Kaitlyn? The bairn are in the nursery?” “Yes, they’re with Emma.” She looked from my face to Magnus’s.

“Liam and I hae been visitin’ Young Laomann’s croft, he dinna bring his family tae the castle during the siege, so we were worried.” Magnus asked, “Are they well?” “Well enough and safe.” Liam said, “Young Magnus, we also looked in on Auld Jimmy, he tells us Black Mac has beaten him?” Magnus said, “Auld Jimmy beat Madame Beaty in front of her husband. Black Mac wanted tae return the beatin’, twas within his rights, as ye ken, but then Auld Jimmy tried tae stand and was too verra drunk. I believe he must hae fallen down.” Lizbeth’s brow rose. “He fell down and did that tae his face?” “Aye and he deserved it.” Liam chuckled. “Aye, it sounds like he did.” Magnus added, “We expect the scouts tae return with word at anytime.

” Liam nodded. Lizbeth said, “Good, I will see ye inside.” They left for the front gate, while we remained quiet from the interruption. I stared out over the field, the grasses buzzing with bugs, midges coming out in droves. “Twas a mistake tae give her the book. We will be livin’ the consequences of it for many long…” My chin trembled. He said, “Ye dinna tell me of it last night.” “Because I knew you’d be disappointed.” A tear slid down my cheek. “I didn’t know what to do — you were gone.

Bella was there. She told Archie she was going to take him home, to take him, Magnus!” He scowled. “I couldn’t think straight. You told me Lady Mairead was your steward. I thought she was on our side!” He huffed. “She is on our side, but she is also always on her own side. Ye ken this.” “Yeah, well, you didn’t see her face when she saw Isla.” He chewed his lip. I crossed my arms.

“And you promised me you were going to keep me safe! You promised me I wouldn’t have to deal with Bella, you promised me.” “Ye are sayin’ this tae me, Kaitlyn? I hae done nothin’ but try tae make ye safe, tae keep ye safe and…” He shook his head. His eyes held pain. “Ye are saying this tae me?” I got scared. I also felt ashamed. Like both those things, fear and shame, were heavy stones in my stomach with anger wrapped up around. I folded my arms and furiously stared at the ground. His brow furrowed, he stared at the ground in front of his feet. Finally, he said, “Ye ken I couldna kill Archie’s mother without a trial. Ye ken tae hae a trial would be tae hae the news filled with stories of the king and his mistress.

Ye ken, once she was found guilty, Archie would be the son of a criminal. What comes of that? I am tae have her publicly executed? Tis the man ye want me tae be?” I smarted off. “Ye ken I was confronted with your mother and your mistress in less than twenty-four hours and I had your son and my newborn baby to protect? So I gave her the book! I freaked out and gave her the book. I thought for fucking once your mom was on my side and I should be on hers — like we could be a family team. I thought that.” I huffed. “I was mistaken, but that’s the kind of woman I am, hopeful that your mom will do the right thing by us, for once.” After a long moment Magnus said, “Dost ye truly believe I daena put yer protection first? In everythin’?” I shook my head, but I couldn’t actually say the words. Because I was close to crying and while knowing he put me first, I was also very often — unprotected. The answer didn’t come easily.

“I ken I hae often failed, verra often.” “I know.” He shook his head. “But I put ye first, always.” “I know that too.” “I apologize for m’temper, Kaitlyn. If I had been there I would hae done it differently, but I wasna there. I ken ye did what ye believed tae be the right thing.” “It was less about belief and more that I was flailing around for something proactive to do. I basically put the book in the painting without even thinking about the implications.

” “The implications may be dire.” “Or they might not. She might put the book in a safe place and she might come and help us.” “Or she may be workin’ alongside Bella. She might hae given Bella a vessel and she might be helpin’ Roderick tae raise an army. The army is quartered on Lord Philip’s landholdings…” “Jesus Christ, she could be doing all of that?” “Aye, she might be.” “Then I really, really regret giving her the book.” He nodded. “Kaitlyn, ye hae seen what I am up against: armies and evil men and diabolical mothers. A world where time daena make sense, where surprise attacks are common and kingdoms are at stake, ye ken that I hae tae— ” He shook his head with a long exhale.

I nodded. “I know, it’s a fucking shitstorm of epic proportions. Daily. I know. I lost my head and gave up the best thing we had in our arsenal. I think I got lulled into a false sense of security. I forgot about the constant war and just thought why not ask Lady Mairead for help?” “I ken.” He put out a hand for mine. We entwined our fingers. The sun was rising in the sky, heat warming my back, the scent of the field grass baking in the sun.

“I do know you’re always putting my security first. I know that. I also know you’re under a lot of impossible situations, and for the last months you’ve kept me so safe I think I kind of forgot that I have to work on it too. I forgot to keep my guard up. I forgot to check in with the security and to be cautious around Lady Mairead, but—” “You have just had a bairn, Isla is verra wee.” “She is. But it doesn’t mean I’m not supposed to be a terrible arse anymore, some might say I need to be a bigger terrible arse.” “Ye daena hae tae be. I will protect ye. I would lay down my life for ye, again and again.

” I gave him a pitying look. “Do you hear yourself? Lay down your life for me? Please don’t. I need you. I need you so much. I want to live on into a crotchety, irritated, old age with you. I want to retire into an old folks home with you… complaining about our grandkids not bringing cookies often enough, putting together puzzles, and going to water-aerobics classes together.” He chuckled. “Like the home Madame Barb lived in? We could hae the sing-a-long nights with the ice cream socials?” “Exactly. We have to get old together to have those, please don’t die. Isla and Archie need you.

Don’t lay down your life for us, we need to stop thinking about trading the one for the other — we are a team, right?” “Aye.” “When you go into battle do you think about it that way: ‘I will die so my brother will live’? No, you want to live too. You want everyone to live. You go into battle trying to kill the enemy instead of choosing who will die for the cause, right?” I searched his face for the answer. “I mean, I’m not a military strategist, but I think we need to start taking the fight to them, before they come to us. Like, why the fuck is Bella still alive?” “I told ye, tis difficult.” “True, I get that, but why is Roderick still alive?” “Dost ye ken what kind of man goes around killin’ those that might want him dead? Tis a dangerous man, an evil man. A man of honesty daena kill first. I think ye are askin’ me tae become a judge and executioner.” “Well, you are a king, I think it goes with the job.

” We looked down at our hands. “I’m not really saying you need to go kill all these people, just that you and I need to get smarter. We need to stop these fights before they get to the point where you’re thinking it’s either Kaitlyn or me — like, what was it I said before you came here?” “Ye told me tae nae be a hero.” He joked, “As if I could nae be a hero.” “I meant this, protecting the castle with our friends, protecting me with your life. What about protecting all of us with your motherfucking army? How about that for once?” “I wanted tae keep the eighteenth century from seein’ our full might. Twould be confusin’ and could alter the time—” “Aw, Magnus, that ship has sailed — have you looked around? People are wearing Uggs. Most of your family was here during the battle on the walls. It might cause issues for them to see your tanks, but what’s the alternative? To not arm ourselves? We need to go get your army before something else happens.” “Lady Mairead told ye my kingdom was in trouble as well?” “She did, she said for you to come on the agreed-upon date.

” Magnus nodded. “I canna leave ye and the bairn here in the castle while I go.” “This is true, but you could send Quentin. He will go. Let’s be smart. Let’s win this thing.” I grinned, “Now aren’t you glad I sent a message to Lady Mairead that we were in trouble?” “Aye, perhaps she might send m’army, there is a chance Lady Mairead will do the right thing. There is also a chance she has a’ready done the wrong thing.” “How will we know?” “I need tae get ye tae a safe house and then—” There came the sound of galloping horses from the woods beyond the stables. A cloud of dust rose into the sky.

“Would ye go inside, Kaitlyn? I will see what they are about.”

.

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