Chapter Ten

The battle seemed to last for hours upon hours. From the moment of rescue, Mary and Annabel were escorted to the royal tent and spent the time fretting, worrying and becoming increasingly annoyed with each other.

"Does anyone realise how annoying you are, Annabel? Including yourself?" Mary scoffed as she peeked out of the tent. Seeing nothing of interest, she lowered herself into a rather uncomfortable chair. "I would congratulate you on such an achievement but I'm not sure it benefits anybody."

Annabel's pretty features warped into an irritated scowl. "Thank you, your Majesty, but I believe that title belongs to you." The girl had spent enough time in close proximity to Mary and her temperament that Annabel felt comfortable responding in such a way to her queen. In France, no servant, nobleperson nor royal would dare answer back to Mary with a similar tone. It was both refreshing and irritating.

"You know, if we were in France, I could easily have you murdered," Mary threatened playfully. "I'm absolutely convinced the Queen Mother would have you hanged, drawn and quartered for all of court to see."

"What a pleasant spectacle, your Majesty. But I would rather be burned like the witch I am." Annabel practically skipped off to the opposite side of the tent to reach for a shawl, giggling with glee like a manipulative child, while Mary seethed in her chair.

"This girl is going to be the death of me."

A triumphant fanfare rang through the field. The remaining soldiers who survived the battle were returning to the camp, joyous and proud despite their exhaustion and injures. Mary exited the royal tent and as the soldiers trudged past her, they bowed as best they could and greeted her with respect and admiration. Mary returned the sentiment and wandered through the camp to reach the makeshift gate. Annabel giggled behind her as handsome, rugged soldiers bowed to her and winked in her direction. But Mary barely noticed, for her attention was firmly drawn elsewhere.

Glorious as ever, Francis was mounted on the same horse as before, armour glittering in the glorious sunshine that had arrived for the victory. He looked tired and weaker than last she saw, but strong and as driven as ever. By his side stood the war-weary James and Bash, necks titled to address their king. From the distance, it appeared as the three men spoke as equals, soldiers on the battlefield.

The rest of the world seemed to fade away as Francis finally directed his triumphant gaze towards the camp and laid eyes on his wife, dark hair messy and dancing in the breeze. His horse was soon forgotten as he dismounted and sprinted in Mary's direction, finally reaching her and pulling her into his arms. Her large bump protruded uncomfortably into his abdomen but it bothered him not, for he had the love of his life back safely in his care. He drew back to press a hungry yet soft kiss to her lips, relishing in the simple pleasure.

"Oh, thank God," he whispered, tears sliding down his cheeks. "Oh, thank God."

Nearing tears herself, Mary brushed her husband's matted hair from his sticky forehead and locked eyes with him. "I love you so much. I knew you would come."

"I would walk through Hell to find you." The seriousness of his tone pushed a tear from Mary's eye, which he wiped away quickly. Another kiss was shared before Francis directed his attention to her belly.

"And our child?" he questioned. "Healthy?"

Mary nodded. "Could not be better, really. Doctor Mackintosh was such an excellent help and comfort. Are you well?"

"As well as I can be, considering my wife was taken from me for several weeks," he quipped, but it hurt more than entertained. Mary stroked his cheek gently.

"I promise you I won't be going anywhere in the future. At least it won't be willingly."

A meeting was held almost immediately after the return of the army. The battle had been victorious, Knox was defeated and Scotland was once again in Mary's hands. The casualties were lower than expected, but any casualty was a blow to all. John Knox was not killed in the battle but rather he was left defenceless after most of his soldiers were either killed or defected. He now languished in the dungeons as Mary and Francis settled themselves into the castle.

It was decided that Knox would be executed the following day, once appropriate grieving for the men lost could be observed. He would stand before the Privy Council, confess to his sins and crimes and then proceed to be hanged in the courtyard of the castle. Francis was vocal about his wish to kill Knox himself, but Mary insisted on a traitor's death.

As the sun began to set, Mary was sat at her desk in the royal chambers. Francis strolled in and fell into a plush armchair, gazing over at his wife.

"Who are you writing to?" he asked.

"Your mother, actually." Mary folded the letter and reached for the wax. "Just to summarise the events and request for my ladies to come here."

Francis leapt up and reached for the letter to read it. "But why should they venture all the way to Scotland if just to return the following day? We will be leaving soon, yes?"

"Of course we can't leave, my darling," Mary sighed. "It is far too close to the birth for me to be travelling and we cannot leave Scotland in the state it is in right now. My people have suffered for years under the tyranny of that monster and we need to stay to oversee the recovery. I know you wish to return to France, but I need to stay here."

Francis folded the letter, dropped it on the desk and returned to his armchair, head in his hands. "I do love you, Mary, but sometimes you can be so incredibly frustrating."

"I know that, it's one of my many charms," Mary retorted playfully, standing to reach for her husband. He kissed her hand tenderly and sighed. "Let us stay until the baby is born and as soon as I am able to travel, we will. Doctor Mackintosh will support us."

"Very well, darling. Let our child be born on Scottish soil and God help us all."

The weather on the Thursday morning was drab and dull. The entire court was gathered in the courtyard, despite the drizzling rain, to witness the execution of Scotland's most powerful tyrant in many years. Mary and Francis, wrapped up in cosy furs and layers of material, sat in chairs under a canopy, with James and Bash by their sides. A Protestant reverend stood on the gallows as Knox was lead before him.

"Do you, John Knox, have any last words to say before you receive your punishment?" the reverend asked, beginning to open his Bible. Knox turned to Mary and snarled at her.

"I regret nothing, Mary Stuart, except that you live on. May God repent you for your sins and relieve us of you."

Francis launched out of the chair but Bash reached for him before he could get anywhere. Knox merely laughed, a deep choking laugh, that sunk into the bones of all people present. Mary remained calm and impartial and simply nodded at the reverend to continue.

"John Knox, you are guilty of high treason, kidnapping and the attempted murder of your queen. As punishment, you will be hanged by the neck until you are dead. May you repent for your sins and may God have mercy on your eternal soul."

The rope was tied and the Bible was read aloud. There was a clanking noise, followed by an ungodly choking and straining. The air grew quiet and soon there was no noise but the battering of rain against the castle walls.

The weeks that followed the victory at Stirling Castle were relatively peaceful. Lords, ladies and peasant alike came to pay their respects to their king and queen. Many even wished their child well, which pleased Mary. The country began to reunite in their appreciation for their monarchs, despite their religious differences. Mary made several announcements that there would be no punishment for being Catholic or Protestant in Scotland and that both religions would be treated as equals by their government. Surprisingly, this did not anger the Pope, as his influence had diminished significantly in both Scotland and France for many years now.

Lola, Kenna and Greer departed France as soon as Mary's letter arrived and made it to Scotland just in time for the birth of the new heir. It had been a mild day, with the sun and the breeze making appearances, when Mary went into labour and retired to her chambers for the birth. Francis was banished from the room despite his wishes to enter, but Bash and James kept the hysterical king as calm as they could. Doctor Mackintosh was in supreme charge, but he was surrounded by several nurses and the ladies to assist.

After several long, tiring hours, Mary and Francis were blessed with a son. Healthy, with strong lungs and a particularly loud cry, he had little tufts of dark brown hair gracing his head, which shook with every hefty wail he screamed. All the ladies cooed over the new prince and as Francis entered, stood back with tears in their eyes.

"My darling, I am so proud of you," Francis whispered, climbing into bed beside his wife to kiss her and reach for his son. While Francis was wild and fierce on the battlefield, he was nothing but soft and gentle when cradling his baby boy. One by one, the ladies left and Mary took her son back into her arms. As she spoke, Francis smoothed her wild hair from her face.

"What shall we name our son, then?" she asked. "I have a few names in mind but I'm sure you will, too."

Francis shook his head and laughed. "I have only one name that I would want to give our son." With a soft sigh, Mary looked up at her husband with a playful grin.

"James it is, then."

A beautiful, glittering christening was held two weeks later, with the entirety of Scottish court present. Catherine, Claude, Leith and some of the younger French royals journeyed from Paris to join their king and queen. Several European royals sent representatives as their proxies to attend and subjects from all over Scotland flocked to Stirling to bear witness to the christening of their future king.

The ceremony itself was a joint Catholic and Protestant one, with elements of both religions incorporated at Mary's express command. Her son would be raised into both faiths, the faith of his family and the faith of his kingdoms, as a true king should. The sun shone down on little James as he was welcomed into the faiths and in true James fashion, let out a hearty cry for most of the day. This entertained the guests at the start.

"What a beautiful ceremony, don't you think?"

Greer's head whipped to her left to see James approach her. She relaxed and curtseyed to him.

"It certainly was, my lord. I hope you are well."

"I am, thank you, my lady." James bent to kiss Greer's hand, drawing a deep rosy blush to her cheeks. "And please don't call me 'my lord'. You must call me James."

Greer smirked back. "Then you must call me Greer, and never 'my lady'. Far too formal for me." With a laugh, James outstretched his arm and offered it.

"Would you care to walk with me then, Greer? I do love a good party but not with dignitaries from every corner of Europe," he snorted. Greer enthusiastically took his arm and almost pulled him towards the terrace.

"I could not agree more."

The festivities on christening day began to draw to a close nearing midnight and the guests retired to their chambers. The calm and quiet was like nectar for Mary, who had grown weary with all the pomp and circumstance. She turned to a beaming Francis, who was sprawled on the bed.

"Don't get me wrong, I love a good party, but there were so many foreign dignitaries I could barely keep myself awake!" Mary removed her shawl and draped it across a chair. "The Lord so-and-so, followed by Sir whoever. And every single woman there had something to say."

Francis chuckled gently. "And only three more days of that left to go!" A groan from Mary, who fell onto the bed beside her husband. "We've done well, haven't we?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, look at us. Still happily married for several years now, a healthy son, a large family, safe and prosperous kingdoms and we still haven't gone mad. I think we can say we are successful, don't you think?"

Mary snuggled into her husband's side, sighing contentedly. "Well, I haven't wanted to have you murdered yet. I think that's a good sign."

Fin.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hi everyone, thank you so much for reading this story. It's taken several years - with a huge writer's block moment in the middle hehe - but finally, here we are at the end of the story. I hope you've all enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Keep staying safe and healthy and much love to you all.

nm713353 xx