One Year Later
“I am frightened, Arthur,” Cleo panted, clutching her husband’s hand as if her very life depended upon it. “My mother died in childbirth. What if I do not live long enough to see our child? I do not want any child to know the pain of growing up without their mother, especially mine!”
“Ye are nae going tae die, lass,” Arthur soothed her, holding her hand firmly in his own no matter how hard she squeezed it.
“How do you know for certain?” Cleo asked, tears streaming down her cheeks from the pain. It was the most excruciating thing that she had ever felt, and she feared that she be ripped asunder in the ferocity of it.
“I simply do. I feel it in my soul.” Cleo looked up into his eyes and saw the truth of his words shining back at her. “Ye are nae leaving me this day or any time in the near future.”
Cleo nodded, attempting to breathe through the pain. “Tell me again.”
“Tell ye what again lass?”
“The story of us.”
Arthur chuckled. “Oh, aye, if it will help.
“It will, it must,” Cleo gasped through another contraction.
“My Lord, should you not retire to another room as is the custom?” the accoucheur who had come to attend the birth asked, looking at the two of them with disapproval.
“Nay!” Cleo shouted and gave the accoucheur one of her better angry glares if the man’s shrinking away was any indication.
“I will be staying right here through the entire thing. Dinnae fash, lass.”
Cleo nodded her head. “I wish he did not have to be here,” Cleo growled at the accoucheur now glowering at them from the corner.
Arthur chuckled. “Aye, but then who would help ye tae deliver the bairn if anything were tae go wrong? It was yer idea tae have him here, remember?”
Cleo frowned. “I suppose he can stay, but he has been warned.”
“Aye, lass, he has at that.”
Cleo groaned through another contraction. “Tell me our story,” she cried out in pained panic.
“Do ye want it in Latin or English, or I could maybe translate it in tae Greek or Gaelic for ye,” he teased in effort to take her mind from the pain.
“English,” Cleo attempted a laugh, but it was too painful. “Please.”
“Aye, well, let me see now. I believe it goes something like this,” he leaned forward and kissed her lips, “and this,” he kissed her again, “and this.” Cleo did laugh then. “There ye are,” he smiled, caressing the perspiration from her brow. “There is my bonnie.”
Smiling, Cleo kissed his hand. She was sorry to have been so difficult, but it had been the pain and fear speaking, and he knew it. I could not have asked for a better husband, a better soul mate.
As if reading her thoughts, Arthur’s eyes took on a faraway look as though he were remembering a time long, long ago. “When our hearts walk as one upon the earth once more, when the fair maiden of the jewel chooses her noble knight above all others, my beloved Arthur will return and in so doing our souls shall together find redemption, for with her courage she will purchase our salvation.”
“You are my salvation, Arthur MacDonald. It was not my courage that saved us, it was yours.”
“We saved each other.”
“It is time,” Cleo cried out, turning frantic eyes up to her husband. “The baby is coming!”
“I am right here, lass, forever and always.”
Cleo nodded, then screamed as another pain ripped through her. The accoucheur rushed forward. “Now push, My Lady,” he instructed, all fear of her gone, all business at hand. “Push!”
Cleo grabbed hold of Arthur’s shoulder and poured every last bit of strength she had remaining to her into birthing her child. Blinding pain ripped through her entire being and she feared that she would lose consciousness, then she heard the sound that would forever change her life. She heard her child’s first cry. She turned her eyes to the tiny red wriggling creature in the accoucheur’s arms and all the world stopped. She had not fallen prey to Guinevere’s fate, she had carved out a new life for herself in spite of the pain, and at the moment, she knew the reason why.
The accoucheur leaned forward and placed the baby in Cleo’s arms. “It is a girl, My Lady, My Lord. Does she yet have a name?”
Cleo and Arthur smiled down at their newborn child and answered in unison. “Dimitra, Dimitra Henrietta Guinevere MacDonald.”
50 Years Later
Arthur and Cleo sat in their back garden at Irondale Manor, soaking up the warmth of the sun, as they watched their grandchildren playing upon the grass. Dimitra’s youngest son, Samuel, was chasing after his older siblings pretending to be a mighty lion that he had seen in one of his tutor’s books from the day before. “Roar,” he yelled as he chased them, causing the girls to squeal in mock fear as they raced about in delight attempting to flee the ferocious beast.
“Do not fear, my lady sisters,” the eldest boy, Isaiah, called out. “I will save you!” Isaiah drew his wooden sword and stood his ground, between his sisters and the lion. “Excalibur and I will save you!”
The eldest girl, Mary Margaret, named after the dearly beloved memory of Mrs. McGrath, stopped running and turned to frown at her brother. “King Arthur did not slay lions.”
“How do you know? He could have,” Isaiah argued, offended that his knightly quest had been interrupted.
“No, he did not,” she shook her head, placing her hands on her hips just as Mrs. McGrath had done when disciplining a charge. “If he had it would be in one of great-grandfather Henry’s books.”
Isaiah frowned. “Well, Mum said that even great-grandfather Henry did not know everything about King Arthur, so maybe he did slay lions.”
Mary Margaret, not to be bested, turned to her watching grandparents. “Grandmother, would you please tell Isaiah that he is wrong?”
Arthur chuckled from beside Cleo, patting her hand in sympathy for having been drawn into such an unwinnable argument. Cleo gave him a look. “Perhaps you should take this question, King Arthur,” she teased, a playful light dancing in his eyes.
“Och, nae. I defer tae yer superior wisdom, my queen,” he answered attempting to hold back his laughter. He reached up and caressed her cheek with his hand. Age had not lessened her beauty in any way, the silver in her hair only adding to her mystery. I am a blessed man.
Cleo snorted. “Superior wisdom,” she laughed, “you remember that the next time that we disagree upon something.”
Arthur chuckled. “Aye, lass, I will do my best.”
Cleo rolled her eyes in exasperation at him, but her sides wiggled with barely concealed laughter, revealing the mirth that lay within. “See that you do.”
The children all came running, with the baby of the family, Deborah, or as she introduced herself to everyone she met as RahRah, crawling up into Arthur’s lap. “Lion,” she said around the thumb in her mouth.
“Aye, lass, Samuel is a lion,” Arthur answered smiling.
“BurBur kill lion.”
Arthur chuckled, giving her a hug. “Aye, Isaiah used Excalibur to defeat the lion.”
“Lion feet?” Deborah looked at her brother’s feet to make sure that they were still there and had not been harmed by the mighty blade.
Arthur’s chuckle turned into a full laugh. “Nay, lass, Samuel’s feet are safe.”
Deborah nodded and settled her head against his chest to watch the argument between her older siblings. Arthur kissed the top of her head and sighed in contentment, believing himself to be the most blessed man on earth. Cleo was surrounded on all sides by their other three grandchildren attempting to reason out whether King Arthur could actually have killed a lion or not.
“Well, let us think for a moment,” she paused, giving the children her most scholarly look as she quickly thought through every source that she could think of pertaining to the Arthurian legend. “I do seem to recall a Knight of the Round Table named Sir Yvain, also known as the Knight of the Lion, who had a pet lion.”
“Truly?” Samuel crawled up into his grandmother’s lap, always ready for a story.
“Yes, truly. Sir Yvain seems to have been the son of King Urien of Gorre and the sorceress Morgan le Fay.”
“I do not like her, she was not a nice lady,” Samuel shook his head in disapproval.
“Nay, she was not,” Cleo agreed.
“Did great-grandfather Henry write about Sir Yvain?” Mary Margaret asked, taking a seat on the grass at her grandparent’s feet. Isaiah followed, sitting beside her.
“Indeed, he did. He wrote that a man named Owain mab Urien was the King of Rheged, a kingdom in Britannia in the late 6th century.”
“Aye, my grandmaither used tae tell me stories o’ him, that her own Da had told her when she was but a wee lass in Wales,” Arthur nodded, joining in the conversation.
The children’s eyes widened with excitement. “And did he truly have a pet lion?” Isaiah asked, giving his sister a sidelong look as if the mere mention of the lion itself had proved that Arthur could have indeed slain a lion with Excalibur.
“Oh, aye. The legend says that he rescued the lion from a serpent, but I think it was from a dragon, nae a wee snake.”
Isaiah nodded his head in solemn agreement, “I agree. A dragon makes far more sense.”
Arthur and Cleo exchanged a look of amusement and went on with their tale. “Oh, aye. Yvain had a way with dragons, ye see, as he saved a bonnie lassie who had been turned into a dragon.”
“How? How did he save her?” the children asked in chorus.
Arthur laughed in delight and leaned forward conspiratorially. “He kissed her three times, like this!” Arthur then kissed each of the children on the forehead three times each, sending them all running and laughing once more, all arguments forgotten.
The children played until darkness fell, then retired to the nursery for the night to sleep and dream of lions, dragons, knights, and beautiful maidens. As they were tucking the children in, Isaiah looked up at Arthur with a quizzical look. “Grandfather?”
“Your name is Arthur.”
“Mum says that you saved grandmother from a very bad man, the man who killed great-grandfather Henry.”
“Yes, he did,” Cleo smiled coming to stand beside them.
“We saved each other,” he corrected kissing the top of her head.
“Are you a knight?” Isaiah asked, his face still quizzical.
“I am an Earl, that is a higher rank than a knight, but I was a Highland warrior afore that. Aye, I suppose ye could say that I am.”
Isaiah nodded his head as if he had figured something out for himself. “I thought so.”
“Why do ye ask, lad?” Arthur was curious as to what his grandson’s young mind had decided upon.
“Mum says that ye are like King Arthur brave and true, but I do not think so.”
“Oh, aye? And why is that?” Arthur asked, not offended, simply curious.
“Because you cannot be like Arthur, if you are King Arthur.”
Cleo and Arthur exchanged a look of surprise. They had never told the children about that part of Henry’s letters. They had kept it locked away for a time when the children were older and would better understand. “And what makes ye think that, lad?”
Isaiah shrugged his shoulders. “Great-grandfather Henry told me in a dream, but I did not know if it was true until now.”
“Why is that, lad?”
“Because Grandmother says that the bravest thing in the world that any man can do is to love, truly love others, and she says that you are the most loving man that she knows, in all of Britain even.”
“Oh, she did, did she.”
Isaiah nodded. “She did. So, if your name is Arthur, and you saved a fair maiden in distress,” he looked at grandmother as he spoke then turned his gaze back to Arthur, “and you are the bravest man in all of Britain, then stands to reason that you must be King Arthur.”
Arthur’s eyes filled with loving tears for the child-like wonder and reasoning within his grandson’s deductions. “Aye, well then, I suppose it must,” he murmured, bent down and kissed the top of Isaiah’s head.
“But grandmother is a better queen than Guinevere,” Isaiah murmured softly, as his eyes began to droop.
“Oh, and why is that?”
“Because she chose love, she chose you.”
“Aye, she did at that.”
“That makes her brave too.”
“Aye, it does indeed.”
Arthur turned to Cleo took her hand in his and they left the nursery, to soft music of their beloved grandchildren’s breathing. “I love you, my noble knight,” Cleo whispered as they stood the hallway’s dim light, Guinevere’s hairpin shining in her hair.
“As I love ye, my fairest maiden of the jewel.”
Ah, before you go...
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