The Hard-Fought Home

Once upon a time, there were two kingdoms, constantly at war with each other. No-one could remember the cause of their conflict; nevertheless, different kings rose and fell over the centuries, tasting victory for a brief moment, until it was their neighbour’s turn to retaliate. Gradually, one of the kingdoms began to falter, their troops poorly equipped and less able in battle, and as their might dwindled, so did the issue of royal blood. Fewer and fewer princes were born until, finally, there ruled a king with three daughters and no male heir.

The king’s mind was weak and spiteful, and he allowed himself to be persuaded by his two eldest daughters to name their husbands’ as co-heirs. The youngest daughter, who was only seventeen and still unmarried, could do nothing as her brothers-in-law grew rich and powerful beyond all reason. Instead, she kept her own counsel and tried to have as little to do with the corrupt court as possible.

There came a great battle, and the king’s armies, commanded by the inept husbands, were all but routed by the enemy. The rival king was young, but his whole life had been spent in battle. His armies were the strongest and deadliest there had ever been, and they carried the rival king all the way to the throne of the old one.

The young man stood in the cold, damp hall and gazed around with contempt.

“I thought such a troublesome gall on the back of my country would be more impressive. Instead, all I see is filth and decay.”

His soldiers snickered quietly behind him, as the old king flushed red with shame and anger. Sat on the smallest throne, the furthest away from her father, the young princess kept her head bowed low as she dreaded what he might say in response.

“A shame your father is not here to see it also.” The old king spat on the ground before him. “I hear the type of poison that did for him is particularly painful. Perhaps I will give you such a gift to go home with?”

His threat was pointless; the remnants of his armies were perhaps a tenth of the enemy’s. A threat was still a threat, however, and so the ranks of fierce-looking soldiers, stood behind their victorious king, rattled their swords and lances in ominous warning. The castle walls shook, and dust and plaster rained down from the rafters upon their heads.

 

At last, the young king held a hand up to silence his men. His voice was stern and powerful.

 

“And yet his son stands before you, the victor. Who is laughing now, old man? But you speak of a gift. What are you going to give me, so that I might be persuaded to leave this rank place in peace?”

 

The defeated king shrugged and refused to answer. Suddenly, his eldest daughter spoke up.

 

“Father, give him your most precious jewel!”

 

Everyone turned to stare, as they had not a clue what she meant by this. Thinking she was being clever, the woman smiled and pointed to her youngest sister.

 

“Cariad – give him Cariad.”

 

The two elder sisters held a deep grudge against their sibling, as they were jealous of her beauty and kind heart. By persuading the young king that Cariad was truly valuable to their father, the eldest hoped to be rid of both the girl and their enemy. The middle sister smirked as she realised the plan.

“Yes, father, give him Cariad.” She added her voice to the suggestion. “She is unmarried, and I am sure she wishes to do her bit to foster better relations between our countries.”

The girl in question was shaking with fear as all eyes turned on her, including the young king. He seemed more animal than man, with his great bear-like height, unshaven mass of beard and the wolf-pelt drawn around his broad shoulders. Yet his eyes were thoughtful as he gazed at her, his brow crinkling into a frown as Cariad’s father lurched to his feet.

“My finest jewel, heh? Come here, child.” Stumbling over his feet, her father approached a horrified Cariad. “Your sisters are right - you have brought me nothing over the years, now is the time to be of some use. Here.” Seizing her roughly about the arm, he dragged her to her feet and turned to address the silent young man. “Take my daughter – the daughter of a king. She is good enough to warm your bedchambers as any wench.”

 

So saying, he threw her at the man. The young king was forced to catch Cariad in his arms, otherwise she would have fallen to the ground at his feet.

 

As he looked at her, he saw how lovely she was, with eyes as blue as the sea on a warm day, skin as white as snow, and hair a curious red-gold, unlike anything he had ever seen before. And the young king’s heart was lost, there and then, and he was secretly delighted that this girl would be his bride. His face, however, remained stern as he spoke.

 

“I accept your daughter, as well as your pledge of allegiance and featly. You do surrender, I take it?”

 

The old king was pleasantly surprised that he was not to be killed in some painful fashion, and he fancied it was his trounced armies that made the other man falter. In truth, the young king (whose name was Finn mac Umaill, which means bright warrior in the old tongue) was loath to upset his new bride further by killing her father. He could feel her trembling even now, as he kept her drawn to his side. Their eyes met, and he thought he saw a glimmer of gratitude in her wide-eyed stare.

So a truce was declared, and the defeated king swore homage to the victor. Finn mac Umaill rode back to his homeland, taking Cariad with him; during the journey, they started to get to know one another. Finn mac Umaill had a fearsome reputation, and Cariad was frightened of him to begin with. But he was also a young man very much in love with the beautiful girl, and he learnt to be gentle and calm in her presence. Cariad grew to like him a great deal, even if she was not ready to love him.

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When they reached Finn’s kingdom, and his castle of red-rose stone, the people were surprised by the foreign princess, and initially, as wary of her as she was of them. However, they saw how happy their king was and so they were, for the most part, glad.

 

There was, however, one clan who were most displeased with Cariad’s arrival. The eldest daughter of this family had been expected to marry the king, and she was furious that her place had been usurped.

 

“Never fear,” her mother said with an evil leer. “A wise woman once told me I would see my daughter crowned queen. We must be patient and hold our nerve.”

 

The daughter agreed. With a deceitful smile upon her face, she accepted a place as Cariad’s handmaid, all the while biding her time for revenge.

 

The day of the wedding arrived, and the false maid helped dress and arrange Cariad’s lovely hair. As she was doing so, she stuck one of the pins so tight, Cariad was almost fainting with pain by the time she reached the altar.

 

Upon seeing her, Finn mac Umaill smiled. He reached out and, in front of everyone, withdrew all the pins in her hair, releasing her thick auburn tresses.

“You look even more beautiful with your hair loose, my love,” he commented, as Cariad gasped with relief. The false maid hissed through her teeth, while her mother’s glare could have felled a horse.

 

The marriage ceremony passed off in splendour, but once the feast was over and Cariad was being escorted to the king’s bedchamber, the maid began filling her mind with tales of horror from the bridal suite. When it was just the newlyweds left alone in the room, Cariad looked into the dark eyes of her husband, and a new type of fear swept over her. But the king was gentle and patient, and over the next few months, Cariad gradually fell in love with him.

 

At the height of their happiness, Finn mac Umaill received some disturbing news. Immediately, he sought out Cariad, who was seated with her ladies in the rose garden.

 

At a sign, he dismissed the maids and attendants, sitting down besides Cariad and taking hold of her hands.

 

“My love, a messenger arrived this morn with sad tidings. Your father has died.”

Although her father had never treated her with any affection, Cariad’s loving heart could not help but grieve his passing. She was also filled with apprehension about the fragile truce between their two countries and whether it would continue. Finn tried to comfort her, but he too was worried. Cariad’s brothers-in-law were now joint rulers, and he knew they were not to be trusted.

Sure enough, war erupted with the brothers-in-law mounting a surprise attack upon the outskirts of Finn mac Umaill’s kingdom less than a month later. With the knowledge that he must fight them once more, reluctantly, the king bade a sad farewell to his young queen. They were both horribly aware how isolated she would be without Finn’s presence, despite his reassurances.

“I will return, I promise,” he vowed as they stood in the courtyard before his soldiers. Cariad kissed him before the onlookers, and the king drew her into his embrace. Looking deep into her eyes, he declared, “I love you, Cariad – no matter how far apart we may be or for how long, always remember that I love you, and I will always come home to you.”

 

No sooner was the king was gone, and Cariad had taken herself to the chapel in order to pray for his safe return, then the false maid’s mother drew her daughter to one side.

 

“Now, my sweet, I have a gift for you. Use it wisely, and we shall all profit.” The gift was a huntsman, mute and with eyes as dead as stone.

 

One day, when Cariad was riding in the woods, she became separated from the rest of her companions. This was all part of the maid’s plan, as it was when Cariad came across the huntsman, waiting for her in a clearing.

 

Without a noise, the man crossed to her side and pulled her down from her horse. Shocked, Cariad saw a long dagger raised above her; with all her strength, she shoved him backwards, catching him off-balance. His grasp loosened, enough for her to wrench herself free, and then Cariad was running as fast as she could.

 

She did not know these woods well at all, but she ran and ran until night descended, and her legs would carry her no further. Collapsing on the leaf-strewn ground, she fell into a deep swoon, and it was only by God’s grace that some wild creature did not happen upon her in the dark.

 

When Cariad awoke the following morning, she looked round her in a daze. Her arms and legs had been slashed by brambles; she was filthy, with her dress and cloak torn by the huntsman’s rough handling; more pressingly, her head was light with hunger. Luckily, there was the sound of a stream nearby, and she drank and washed as best she could. A few bright berries clustered on a bush, but their taste was bitter; hastily, she spat them out and swilled her mouth once more.

Wearily, she resumed her trudge, unaware of where she was heading. She did not know the way back to the castle, nor would she have dared return there. Her heart broke as she thought of her husband, the only protection she had, away fighting at the other end of the country.

 

The day was nearly done, and Cariad was nearly dead on her feet when she stumbled upon a small, ramshackle cottage, nestled in the heart of the forest. She fell to the ground outside the door and would have lain there all night, if the dog living within the cottage had not started barking and scratching at the door. His master, an old forester, opened the door in bemusement and was even more surprised by the mane of red-gold hair lying across his step.

 

When he saw the beautiful young woman the hair was attached to, the forester turned pale with wonder. However, he had a good heart, and he brought Cariad into his house and placed her in his own bed, while he slept before the fireplace that night.

The next day, after the forester had given her a breakfast of steaming porridge, she explained who she was and how she came to be wandering the woods in such a dishevelled state. In all honesty, the forester did not know whether to believe her claim to be queen, but her blue-green eyes were filled with such sadness, and she seemed so alone and frightened, that he did not hesitate in swearing to protect her as best he could.

 

“But if you are who you say you are, you must not leave this house, not until I find out what is happening,” the forester declared. “It is too dangerous if there are people out to kill you.” This, Cariad readily agreed to.

 

Leaving his dog as protection for the young woman who claimed to be queen, the forester made a rare foray into the city to try and discover the lie of the land. There, he was horrified to hear tales of how the queen had seized the first opportunity of her husband’s absence to try and escape back to her own country. For such treachery, she had been sentenced to death, and any one who helped her would share in this judgement.

 

When he returned home, the forester was stern-faced and silent for a long time. Cariad trembled as he stared thoughtfully into the stew she had prepared.

When he spoke, his voice was faraway.

 

“You remind me of my sister… kind eyes. Eyes of an angel, people used to say.” He looked at her and smiled sadly. “I was very fond of little Lizzie – always hanging on my shirt-tails, wanting to join in with whatever I was doing.”

 

“What happened to her?”

 

His smile faded at her question. “She died just short of her fifteenth summer. Here, in this very cottage. Mother went not long after, and I hadn’t the heart to move out.”

 

“I am sorry,” Cariad whispered. The old man seemed to be thinking hard.

 

“Should’ve protected her…”

 

“Protected her from what?” she ventured to ask.

 

“Some lads… got hold of her. They hurt her.”

 

“People can be cruel sometimes. Horribly cruel,” Cariad burst out, furiously twisting her wedding ring about her finger. The forester glanced up, and his eyes glimmered gently once more.

“I should have protected Lizzie, but I didn’t. Perhaps I can make up for it now.” He was nodding determinedly to himself as he spoke. “Figure I could do with some young blood around the place, cheer me up a bit.”

 

“You mean… I can stay?” Cariad asked in a breathless whisper. “Even though it puts you in danger?”

 

The forester’s smile widened. Chuckling, he reached over to pat her hand.

 

“I’m old enough and ugly enough to look after myself, missy. Your Majesty, begging your pardon,” he quickly corrected himself, but Cariad was laughing and crying at the same time, as well as throwing her arms tight around his neck.

 

The odd couple settled into a comfortable routine; however, this was not the end of Cariad’s troubles. Within nine months of her arrival at the cottage, the rough white-washed walls rang with the screams and cries as she gave birth to Finn mac Umaill’s son. She named the child Finian, and although Cariad still felt a deep ache whenever she thought of her husband, the little dark-haired bundle of energy was certainly distraction enough.

 

The huntsman, rather than admit his failure to kill Cariad, had killed and cut out the heart of a young doe, taking this as proof to the false maid. The maid and her mother were delighted, and now all there was to do was await Finn mac Umaill’s return.

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Cariad’s brothers-in-law proved wilier than expected, and it took Finn mac Umaill three years to capture and kill them, as well as finally quell all the small springs of rebellion. Eventually, he was able to turn his face to home, eager to see his bride once again.

 

When he had first known Cariad, their love had been a sapling – young, vulnerable; unsteady in the breeze. Now, Finn could feel the roots that had developed, building their love into something perhaps too big and too overwhelming to be healthy. His countenance, which had been fierce beforehand, had grown almost beast-like; his eyes, so deep and wrathful that few men could bear to gaze at him for too long.

 

The news of Cariad’s disappearance hit him hard, and he was very angry at how court had behaved. Immediately, he ordered search parties and rescinded the death sentence. However, Cariad did not learn any of this, as her guardian, the old forester, had grown a lot frailer and rarely ventured out anymore.

 

Each night, the seekers returned, solemn-faced and with no news, and Finn mac Umaill grew more desperate and more vulnerable to court gossip. His advisors, prompted by the maid who had caused all this evil, openly spoke of Cariad as a traitor and, although the king did not want to believe that of his young wife, he did not know what else to make of her disappearance. And so he became quite wild and vicious in temper as he mourned his loss.

 

A year after his return, the search parties were abandoned, and Finn mac Umaill married the false maid. He had no heart for such a union, yet his courtiers kept impressing the need for an heir. It was a cold, indifferent kiss that he bestowed on his new wife at the altar, and she could not help but shudder at the resentful edge to his gaze.

 

“Never mind that,” her mother tried to comfort her, as the queen was led towards her waiting husband that night. “Just give him a son, and he will love you.” But no son came, and no love grew between the couple either.

 

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Two years after Finn’s return, and five years into Cariad’s exile, the forester died. Cariad and her son, young Finian, were distraught – not just because of the protection he had offered them, but also because they both loved the old man – and, very soon, their situation worsened once again. It was a hard winter that took the forester, and the food supply he had put by was close to exhaustion.

One night, as Cariad sat by the small fire watching Finian play with the stones and twigs he liked to collect, she came to a decision. She would go and find out what had happened to her husband. If he had still not returned, she would disappear once more, assume a false name and try to earn a living as best she could. If he had returned, she would throw herself on his mercy and hope that he would at least accept their son.

 

Mother and son packed their few belongings into a couple of knapsacks and set off one morning through the woods, sticking to an ancient track the forester had once shown Cariad. Very soon, a passing village tranter overtook them, and they gratefully accepted a lift.

 

They parted company with the tranter and his shire horse at the edge of the capital; however, the city was massive and sprawling, and they still had a fair way to go. Cariad drew her hood up, covering her red-gold hair so she would, hopefully, not be recognised. Gripping Finian’s hand tight, they continued their pilgrimage.

It was a terrifying journey, even more so for Finian – he had only ever seen a few forest folk in his short life, and he was shaking like a leaf as they advanced through the bustling streets. The townspeople were dirty and rough, and everyone seemed to stare at them with wary, accusing eyes. More than once, men tried to accost Cariad, but she ducked and avoided them, weaving herself and her son through the crowds. She soon learnt it was safest to stay in the middle of the street, preferably close to groups of women.

 

The castle was visible in the distance – her home for a very brief period of time. As they drew closer, the roads widened, and both the houses and people seemed cleaner and more respectable. They were not going to make the castle in one day, however, and Cariad handed over a couple of the forester’s hoarded coppers in exchange for clean lodgings and a simple supper.

 

The next day, they resumed their journey, but it seemed they were not the only ones whose destination was the castle. By dint of asking a few, kind-looking folk, Cariad realised that today was the king’s weekly petition, when he heard the claims of the commoners.

 

Outside the castle, the crush of people grew even greater, and she began to think this had not been such a good idea. Finian’s hand was clamped tight in hers, his other arm drawn around her waist, making it very difficult for them to advance. They were shunted into a small antechamber, where the smell of sweat and filth made Cariad feel light-headed.

 

The entire morning was spent thus, with Cariad moving scarcely an inch closer to seeing the king. Mid-afternoon, when it was announced that petitions were over, a groan rang around the room, and Cariad felt herself gripped by panic. In desperation, she fought her way to the guards at the door.

 

“Please, I need to see the King, I need to tell him –”

 

Her words were cut off by a hard shove in the shoulder from one of the guards, causing her hood to fall down. Sneering, the guard lifted a mailed hand, threatening to strike her once again.

 

“The king does not wish to hear any more whinging scum. Go home.” His eyes travelled lustily over her face and down her body. Evidently, he was new in the last five years and did not recognise her. “Unless you wish to come backstairs with me and earn a few coppers? Reckon it’s more than my legs that are stiff, stood here all day with you peasants.”

 

Finian stepped forward to glare at the man, his little face pale but determined. Judging by the guard’s sudden recoil, it struck Cariad how much he resembled his father.

 

“You will not speak to my mama like that! And I will see my father now.” His piping voice carried, making the dispersing crowd turn to watch.

 

“Who be your father, little bastard?” the guard asked in a less certain voice. Finian raised his chin defiantly.

 

“His Majesty, the King, and I am not a bastard. My mama is the queen.”

 

The guard looked at Cariad again, and his face blanched as he truly took in her features. Around them, people began to whisper and gasp.

 

Cariad gazed around in mute appeal, when the guard suddenly grabbed hold of her arm. Without a word, he hauled her through the previously-barred doors, with Finian clinging onto her other arm, shouting and struggling. They passed through another room, with the guard shouting for people to stand aside.

 

When they entered the third room – a much larger and more opulent chamber – the guard threw Cariad onto the marbled floor. Pain shot through her body at the impact, and she realised Finian was crying beside her. Quickly, she drew her arms tight around him and looked up.

“Your Majesty, look what I have found!” the guard proclaimed, as Cariad met Finn’s shocked gaze. There was her husband, his face older and sadder. His eyes were dark and hollow-looking; there were lines around his mouth and on his brow that she did not remember. And by his side, with her hand resting on his arm, was Cariad’s former maid, dressed in a dusky outfit of silks and jewels, fit for a queen.

 

“Cariad…” Finn mac Umaill breathed. Confusion, horror, the stirrings of anger – they all flitted across his face. His eyes shifted to Finian, who was peeping up at him from his mothers’ embrace, and the king’s expression underwent another shock.

 

With an inhuman growl, he rushed forward and, seizing Cariad’s upper arms, dragged her to her feet. An involuntary cry left her lips as his fingers dug deep.

 

“YOU!” Finn boomed out, shaking her like she were a ragdoll. “You… you left me!”

 

Cariad felt the injustices of the last five years come bubbling up, and she screamed back in his face.

 

“You never came back for me! They tried to kill me – I had to escape! You swore you would come back, but you did not.”

Who tried to kill you?” the king snarled, his tone disbelieving. Cariad whimpered in fear once more.

 

“I… I do not know. It was a stranger.”

 

A shrill laugh sounded from behind the king, and the dark queen stepped into Cariad’s view. Her eyes glittered with malice, a sneer lifting the corner of her thin lips.

 

“Of course she cannot name him – he does not exist. She ran away; now the rat hopes to slink back, tail between her legs.”

 

“Silence!” roared Finn, half-turning as he spoke. Cariad stared at the other woman, feeling as though she were seeing her for the first time.

 

“How did you know it was a man who tried to kill me?” Finn’s gaze returned to her, the anger in his eyes momentarily subdued. Cariad repeated her question. “You said ‘he’ – how did you know?”

 

“Do not think to question me, brazen witch!” the queen spat out. “I am q-”

 

Finn cut her off. “And I am king. How did you know?”

 

The queen gaped before snapping her mouth shut and shrugging. “A guess. It is usually a man, is it not?”

Cariad began to tremble afresh. “You planned the ride that day. You were the one who told me to wait while everyone else rode on to make sure the trail was safe. You were supposed to come back for me.” Her eyes flicked back to a stunned-looking Finn. “And you made her your queen once I was gone.”

 

Just then, a door opened at the far end of the room, and in stepped Cariad’s would-be assassin. He had been well rewarded for his services by the evil queen, and was now her unofficial bodyguard. Cariad gasped and hugged her son tighter.

 

“It was him, he was the one sent to kill me!” She nodded towards the man who had stopped dead in his tracks. With wild eyes, the king turned to look.

 

Finn knew the mute was his second wife’s creature; he could also hear the ring of terrified truth in Cariad’s voice. Slowly, he felt the all-too familiar anger building inside.

 

“Guards, seize him!” There was a scuffle, and it took four men to hold the huntsman still. The dark queen ran forward and grabbed hold of Finn’s arm.

 

“She is lying! You cannot trust a word she says!”

“Do not tell me what I can and cannot do, woman,” Finn ground out through gritted teeth. His heart was by now very bitter and shrivelled, and he could not pretend to have even a little regard for this second wife. Only the memory of how precious a look was from Cariad’s guileless blue eyes, or a shy smile playing about her lips, kept him from breaking the first in two right now.

 

Those eyes were pleading with him as she whispered, “I swear on our son’s life – that man tried to stab me in the forest, days after you left.”

 

Our son?” Finn croaked in amazement, and his gaze fell to the small boy by Cariad’s side. He took in the dark eyes, the inky black hair that refused to lay straight; the determined set to his jaw. His son…

 

The dark queen hissed in rage. Before anyone realised what she was doing, she had pulled out a long, thin knife from her skirts. Without pause, she plunged it deep into Cariad’s side.

 

Both Finn and Finian felt the shock pass through Cariad’s body, and then she was sagging in Finn’s arms. Blood drained from her face and began seeping out from the homespun cloak she wore, almost instantly.

 

Cariad vaguely heard the king’s orders for the queen to be seized, for doctors and physicians to be fetched. As she sank to the floor, she became acutely aware of Finian’s terrified eyes, latched onto hers, and she tried to smile to reassure him.

 

“Shh,” she whispered, her voice strangely faint. She wanted to lift her hand to stroke his face, but her limbs were heavy and unwilling.

 

“Cariad…” The king’s broken voice drew her attention. When she looked at him, his face was starting to blur and darken.

 

“My husband…promise me… look after him. Look after our son…”

 

“I will, I swear it,” Finn wept, kissing her frantically on the lips. “But you must live. Promise me you will live and stay with me as wife and queen once more.”

 

“I promise…” Cariad whispered, as the world faded to black and her senses left her.

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When the physicians had taken Cariad away, Finn slowly rose from his kneeling position. His legs and hands were wet with blood, but still more was to be spilt that day. With dull eyes, he turned to look at his second wife.

 

Two guardsmen had hold of her, although she was not struggling. She seemed to have realised her fate, as she dropped to her knees and lowered her head.

 

Finn mac Umaill beckoned to the nearest knight. When he was close enough, the king reached out and took his sword. The two guards stepped away from the motionless queen.

 

Before striking off her head, a tiny noise made him glance up. It was his son, held in the arms of one of his advisors, an old man. Big, black haunted eyes were fixed on Finn; wordlessly, Finn made a gesture. The old man turned immediately, shielding the boy from sight. Then, Finn mac Umaill chopped off his wife’s head.

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A week passed, with Cariad drifting in and out of consciousness. During her more lucid phrases, she would murmur names, and it was unclear whether she was asking for Finn or Finian. Either way, both refused to leave her side, an almost competitive spirit arising between father and son as to who was the most devoted.

 

As soon as he had been allowed to see her, Finian had climbed onto the stately bed, curled himself around his mother’s inert body and fallen asleep. When Finn tried to move the boy, he began to struggle.

 

“No! I stay with mama.”

 

Finn relented, not wishing to hurt Cariad any further. He found his heart a lot lighter these days, his thoughts kinder. He often surprised himself by smiling as he rested his head against Cariad’s chest, counting the breaths she took. The boy was still strange and wild towards him, and it had been three days before Finn could coax a name out of him.

 

When he learnt he was called Finian, Finn wept unashamedly. The boy stared back, confused yet defiant, before closing his eyes and burrowing deeper into Cariad’s side.

 

At last, she awoke. Despite the dull throb in her side where the knife had pierced her, Cariad smiled to see the two heads with their identical mess of silky black locks resting alongside her.

 

Feeling her move, Finn looked up. He had no words at first, but over the next few days, and with a good many tears on both sides, the king and queen began to talk. Slowly, they pieced together the last five years of separation; more importantly, they both realised their love was not extinguished.

 

The task of mending their little family was by no means easy. Finian found it particularly difficult to accept such a stern father figure, and Finn had to learn how to smile and be not quite as austere as circumstances had made him. They discovered that kindness begat kindness – the more the father mellowed, the quicker a shy smile broke out on Finian’s face whenever he saw him, and soon Finn was completely wrapped around his son’s little finger.

 

And what of Cariad? The blackened weed that was Finn’s heart only needed a little care and love before it thrived once again; within a year of her return, the re-crowned queen had more good news to tell him. A new prince or princess was on their way, and Finn was able to witness for himself all the subtle yet powerful changes his pregnant wife underwent.

 

A girl was born in the midst of spring, when the roses were just beginning to unfurl; because of this, they named her Róisín. Her beauty surpassed even that of her mother’s, and would, one day, cause great mischief. But for now the new princess slept, with her family around her, finally at peace.

©2020 by Nicola Niemc