I sighed, standing straight and feeling my lower back pulsate and throb from the strenuous work of tilling the fields. I spotted Emmelyne a ways off on the road between the cottages and fields, struggling with a sloshing bucket of water. We’d been at this homestead for three days, and though the work was easy enough for me, I found myself constantly bitter that they’d forced my woman to work so hard. She never complained, but she’d fall asleep before dinner each night.
My father had set out in search of any news, leaving us at the mercy of his apathetic friends. I’d noticed there were only two women, both older, who constantly griped at Emmelyne. The only good aspect of staying here was a roof over our heads at night as the rains would come. I ached to leave, to be back on the road and pushing forward, but I knew our plans had to be calculated wisely now. Each move we made had the capacity to be either flawless or disastrous.
The day was sunny, bright and rather hot, though still muggy and promising more rains this evening. The ground below me was easy enough to till, with very little rocks, but I was the only one completing this task. Shouting carried on the cool breeze, causing me to search for Emmelyne. I threw down my rusty spade, jogging angrily to the pair of women who stood before Emmy, berating her for spilling the bucket of water.
“You useless little shit—”
One woman spat, her partner sneering behind her. Emmelyne’s face was red, tears in her eyes. I stopped short, though, watching as she clenched her fist. I waited by the wagon, still unnoticed. Emmy shook with an all-too-familiar rage. I smirked, knowing that what I was about to witness would bring me some joy.
“Leave me alone.” She seethed.
“Yer useless and stupid!” The other dirty woman spoke.
“Well you’re going to die in a months time anyways! Then you will be the useless one!” Emmelyne shouted. I hid my laughter, sensing that this wasn’t to something to be laughed at. The women exchanged a glance of disbelief before narrowing their eyes suspiciously at Emmy.
“Are ye tryin’ to fool us, girl? Think ye can get out o’ doin’ chores by spouting nonsense?”
Emmelyne shook even more.
“It doesn’t matter what I say. You’re both too dimwitted anyways,” she turned on her heel, heading back up the path. I shoved off the wagon, making to follow, but she whirled once more on the women.
“By the way, your husband is sleeping with your friend. Don’t believe me? They meet every night behind the barn.”
Their faces became perplexed and ashen, one quickly turning away to hide her shame while the other scrutinized her friend. I doubled over in laughter, proud of my woman for her untamed tongue and willingness to stand up for herself. Emmelyne heard the noise, her eyes searching for me, relaxing as they found me. She crossed her arms as I dared to approach.
“Shit, woman,” I teased, reaching for her arm as she bit her lip, ineffectively hiding her smile.
“I should take ye right now,” I said, winding my arms around her waist, pulling her into a hug. Her arms remained crossed as she stared up at me, concern in her wide blue eyes.
“That wasn’t too mean, was it?” She asked. I scoffed, chaffing her warm back.
“Nah, wee one, they’ve had it comin’ for some time now.” I reassured her. She relaxed some more, though a shiver ran through her. It was my turn to stare in concern at her.
“Are ye cold?” I asked. She nodded, leaning into me, her body warmer than usual next to mine. I was burning up as it was. I brought the back of my hand to her forehead, feeling for myself the clamminess of her skin, seeing how pale she was.
“Do ye feel alright?”
She shrugged, considering for a moment.
“I’m tired, and my throat hurts a bit.” She said.
“Hmph,” I said, sensing where this was leading.
“What?” She asked.
“Come along, love, ye need yer rest.”
Without question, she allowed herself to be pulled back into the safety of our temporary home. I’d dealt with the sick before, having helped Ama more times than not, most of them women at that. The men of the Brotherhood usually didn’t care for their women’s health, so sickness was common, as was fever. My heart clenched, thinking back to Maeve and how she’d become ill one day and was gone the next. I silently prayed Emmelyne was only sick from the change in the weather and her workload. I kissed the top of her warm head as we made our way out of the fields.
“There ye go,” I said later that night, coaxing tea into her. Her condition had worsened slightly, though she was now propped in bed and swathed in blankets. Her cheeks were flushed, though she complained of being cold. I wasn’t sure that was entirely her sickness’ fault—Emmelyne was always cold. I sat on the edge of the lumpy bed, gripping her covered feet, putting pressure on her arches. She sighed, holding the steaming mug to her face as her eyes closed. She sniffled every so often, her nose becoming plugged.
“Thank you,” she said quietly, her eyes flashing to me. I smiled in response.
“Ye need sleep, I’m afraid. And lots o’ it. Yer body should fight the fever on its own.” I assured her. She sipped her tea, her eyelids heavy already. I’d learned that women were a stubborn breed, not willing to complain of any fatigue or ailments until it was too late. It seemed Emmelyne was no different on that front. She set her tea aside, wriggling further into the blankets and yawning. I chuckled.
“I love you,” she said, her words muffled by the thick quilt. I smirked, continuing to rub her feet.
“I love ye too, wee faerie.”
She fell asleep quickly, giving me time to clean up myself and our space. I could sense another presence before I heard it, though I knew it was my father simply by how he mounted the steps to our cottage. I pulled open the door before he had a chance to knock and wake Emmelyne. I blocked his view, staring levelly into his icy blue gaze.
“Ye’ll no’ invite me in for a dram o’ whisky?” He asked, feigning hurt. I smirked, listening to the crickets and frogs call to one another in the warmth of the night.
“She’s sick,” I said, shrugging, pushing forward to close the door behind me. Dougal nodded in understanding.
“Ahh, ye went ahead and gave her a child, then?” He said, walking onto the path, assuming I’d follow—which I had been, until those words. I felt myself stutter to a stop, causing him to turn and crack a wise grin at me.
“She’s no’ wi’ child.” I argued. He crossed his thick arms, facing me as we stood a little ways from the cottage. The moon was high and bright, the stars sparkling in the velvety darkness. He raised a grizzled, grey eyebrow, watching as I sputtered.
“And how can ye be so sure? I hear ye two always makin’ a damn racket. Yer like rabbits,” he said bitingly, now glaring at me. I became defensive immediately.
“That’s none of yer concern,” I said, stepping forward threateningly. He didn’t flinch.
“Ye don’t think so?” He asked.
“Fuck no!” I growled. “Where have ye been my entire life? Fakin’ who ye really were, then goin’ off and making me think ye were dead? And now ye come back and want to tell me how to go about my own personal business?” I seethed. He shook his head, chuckling.
“Haven’t ye thought about the consequences for yer actions, boy? Yer on the run! If she becomes pregnant…” he trailed off. I understood his worry, but I felt the need to disregard it for two reasons. The first: Emmelyne would likely know when she would have a child, and she’d never mentioned it before. The second, if we did conceive, then I had no doubt I’d do everything in my power to be the best father for that child. Though now that I was faced with the possibility, fear tingled up my spine. My father chuckled again as I shot him a glare.
“If that’s what is meant for us, then so be it. I’ll no’ leave my woman and child. Ever.” I growled, staring levelly at him. He didn’t move, though deep in his eyes I saw the pain that my words had caused.
I rubbed my tired eyes, reading by the dim light of the fire. The book on herbs and medicinal plants scarcely held my attention, but I needed some distraction at the moment. Ever since my father had mentioned me becoming a father, I hadn’t been able to remove the image from my mind. I knew in my heart that I’d be a good man, that I’d always provide for those who relied on me. But the thought of raising a child—something so innocent and pure in this wretched world—made me sick.
What if I was cursed with a daughter? Not that there was anything wrong with girls, but as a man, knowing how other men think, I’d never let her leave my sight. And if I had a son? He’d likely end up just like me, and I’d spend my remaining days chasing him down and giving him a thrashing for being a little shit. Was I prepared for that level of responsibility? Was Emmy? Were our passionate and reckless actions putting us both at risk?
I groaned, slamming the book shut. The noise caused Emmelyne to moan and stir, her wide blue eyes slowly blinking open. I stood, making my way to the bed as guilt washed over me for waking her.
“I’m sorry, wee one, get back to sleep.” I urged. Her small hand searched across the blanket until she gripped mine. She was still feverish to the touch, worse than before. I brought my other hand to her forehead, measuring her sickness as best I could. I frowned.
“How do ye feel?” I asked. She was flushed, with dark circles under her eyes, her lips dry and cracked. These signs didn’t indicate pregnancy…at least, I hoped they didn’t.
“Gross.” She croaked. I snorted, smirking at her sense of humor.
“I’ll take care of ye, I promise.” I said. I brushed the hair from her forehead, staring into her depthless blue eyes, so wide and still holding so much innocence, despite all she’d witnessed and endured. I wondered idly what our children would look like. Hopefully more like her, for their sakes. Emmelyne still had the ability to take my breath away with a single look, and I knew that feeling would never fade. If anything, I felt it growing strong each and every day. Her brow furrowed as she stared up at me.
“What’s on your mind?” She asked, being rather direct. I felt the smile leave my face, sensing this was something I should be truthful about with her.
“Ehh,” I rubbed the back of my neck, feeling it flush hotly in the stifling cabin. Stifling for me, perfect for her. She waited patiently.
“It’s just…have ye ever…seen children, in yer future?” I asked, peeking at her cautiously. This was horrible timing, with her being so feverish and exhausted. I mentally kicked myself.
“What?” She asked, brows pulling together more.
“Never mind, we can discuss this later,” I said, moving to stand. I heard her small, raspy laugh, making me turn back to her and stare in confusion. Her eyes were bright, whether from her sickness or because she was entertained at my embarrassment. Her little hand flew to her mouth, covering her laughter. I narrowed my eyes at her.
“Killian,” she said, sobering, tightening her squeeze on my hand. I waited for the final blow, waited for the axe to fall. She would tell me the truth of what she’d seen, and I’d have to prepare myself. I held my breath.
“I…I know one day, I will. I’ve seen it, I’ve felt myself carry life within me. But…” she trailed off, shaking her head, looking down at her feet. My heart hammered.
“I can’t tell the visions apart, anymore.” She said. Now it was my turn for confusion.
“How do ye mean?” I whispered. She bit her dry lip, her eyes out of focus as she saw images I’d never see.
“The red haired woman…I think, well, she’s lost a child, before it was born, but I can see that she will have another. That’s where it gets…hazy. Because I feel everything she does, and I can see myself with…children,” she fiddled with her hands, her eyes coming back to focus in on my face, to gauge my reaction. I was still, pondering what it all meant. I felt a bit relieved, though, seeing that she wasn’t frightened by the prospect. I drew strength from her.
“You’re worried,” she smiled, showing her teeth in her grin. I smirked, casting my eyes to our hands. I nodded, feeling my eyes widen at her true assessment of my fears.
“Aye, I am.”
I felt her hand leave mine, felt it gently lift my face so she could stare into my eyes, her fingers soft against the ruddy stubble along my jaw.
“It won’t be for a while, I know that for sure. I’m afraid, too, but…” her eyes flicked between mine, searching. It seemed we always could draw strength from one another. I clasped my hand over hers, bringing her palm to my lips and giving it a kiss.
“But what?” I urged. Her cheeks rose in a wide smile, and I couldn’t tell if it was the fever causing them to redden or her natural tendency to always blush.
She pressed her hand tighter to my face. I felt a flash of hotness before the images flooded my mind. Our wedding day, our wedding night (clearly both her favorite images), my large hands splayed across her distended and protruding belly, me chasing a little wobbly red-haired lad with chubby cheeks as my woman smiled at us.
When she pulled away, my vision was blurred, my chest tight with emotion. I hadn’t wanted it to end. I’d seen and felt the utter joy and happiness in my heart. Knowing my future with Emmelyne had settled my erratic heart. I knew I’d be by her side the entire way, could feel how our love would grow to accompany the embodiment of us. I cleared my throat, somewhat ashamed at my show of emotions.
“How long have ye known that was yer future?” I said huskily. She smiled, bright tears in her eyes as well.
“Since the night I met you.”