The last, muhahahaha...Enjoy!
Spring was upon the Deibh Pigeán Mountains once again, with its promise of warmth, of relief from the bitter winds, of life. The snows had finally receded past Staireán Sruth a mere sennight ago. Green was pushing up, the hardy grass, and the hardier wildflowers. His garden was coming back nicely, Dórainn thought, stepping through it, avoiding the tiny curls of his sprouts with deft, practiced ease. At dawn, the chill of winter still clung beneath the branches of the trees, along with the tendrils of fog. But the chill was easily ignored, and if he got uncomfortable, he had stirred the main fire in his cottage before emerging from it.
His stride was brisk as he walked to the barn, and he was greeted with the usual sounds and smells of the horses. Muir's head appeared over his stall door, a quiet wicker of greeting. The mare, pragmatic as always, now called Sìne, whuffled at the bucket that would contain her feed, as soon as he gave it to her. Dórainn chuckled, and walked into the room where he kept the grain, passing the newly added third stall. A yearling, with the looks of his sire and the impertinence of his mother stuck his nose out, and snorted, ears flicking back and forth. The children called him Foolish, and Foolish he was.
A few handfuls for each, and then he put them out, to scrounge what grass they could. The two older horses went with dignity, while Foolish kicked up his heels with a squeal, and cantered around the field twice before dropping his head to the new grass.
Tam emerged from the woods laughing at the young horse's antics. Tall now, at fifteen, and growing still, he was level with Dórainn's shoulder, and came every day for lessons. He was well on his way to becoming a very good healer, the mage was pleased to admit to himself, and a good man too. A son that a father could be proud of—he didn't doubt that the boy's true father would have been pleased, and Iain, who had married Effie shortly after the twins' birth, loved the boy like his own, and couldn't be prouder.
"Come, Tam, we'll have a cup of tea before we start." The offer was habitual, begun while the twins were teething, and neither the mage nor his wife were sleeping more than two hours any given night and the caffeine within the tea was a necessity. By dawn, Tam had been a welcome sight, with his mother's advice on his tongue.
Iona wandered out of the second bedroom, trailing the doll modeled after Cináed she favored above all. "Da?"
"Yes, gràdhag, what is it? You are up very early." The mage set the kettle aside, and went to lift his daughter. She tucked her head sleepily into the hollow between his neck and shoulder, still clutching the dragon doll.
"When're Unc' Caoin an' Unc' Cal gonna get here wiff the baby?"
He smiled against her dark hair, and returned to the table, settling her in his lap before answering. "Later today, dearheart. They have to go slowly, so that the baby doesn't get tired."
Tam grinned at him from across the table—there was nothing he liked more than to watch his reticent, stern-faced master interact with his four-year-old children, and to see the transformation from terrifying Demon Mage into adoring father, wrapped around two tiny pinkies.
"An' Grandda Roc? Is he coming?"
"Yes, I believe Roarke is coming too. And Cináed. Where is your brother, little love?" he asked, shooting his student a repressive glare over Iona's dark little head. As though in answer to the question, Seòsaidh wandered from the twin's bedroom as well, making a beeline for father and sister, and clambering up on Dórainn's lap, to snuggle silently against his other shoulder, still far more asleep than the girl.
Physically, the twins looked very nearly identical—dark, fine hair grew in a mop on both heads, and eyes that could be blue one day and grey the next matched. No doubt as they matured, their faces would change, refine into masculine and feminine forms of each other, but now there was only the androgynous softness of childhood that rendered them near doubles.
She, however, was very much like her mother in spirit, as bright and social as a robin, while Seòsaidh tended to remain quiet, and hang back. Far be it, though, for his son to act as the voice of reason; the boy was wickedly clever and had a taste for pranks that worried and amused his father, and made Rapunzel laugh aloud.
"Tam, kindly remove the imbecilic expression from your face," Dórainn directed, as icily polite as a sphinx. The youth's face obediently smoothed, though green eyes continued to twinkle. "Bah," the mage muttered, settling the twins more comfortably. "I don't know why I put up with you."
"'Cause Ah'm yer best student?"
"Only student, lad."
Tam only grinned at him again.
"You can be replaced," Dórainn growled, as his wife emerged from their bedroom, dressed, but barefoot and loose-haired.
"Are you threatening Tam again?" She padded over, as slim and lovely as ever, and bent to kiss him.
"'e'll never get rid o' me, ma'am. Doesna want tae break in a new 'pprentice," Tam confided, grinning up at her.
"Cheeky brat," was the mage's only comment, and shifted so Rapunzel could lift Seòsaidh away. "He followed Iona out," he added, standing with his sleeping daughter. "They should sleep another few hours, now that she's been assured that sufficient numbers of her adoring slaves are coming to your party."
Tam watched as the mage and his pretty wife returned their children to the second bedroom, not bothering to stifle a smile at the four of them. They were, as his mother put it, quite a picture. It seemed incredible to him, the changes the past five years had wrought in his master: his smiles remained few, but they reached his eyes, and he laughed—a miracle, it seemed. He bantered with increasing ease, allowed those he called friend to tease him without growing stiff and icy, or quietly sad. No more was the silent, unhappy man with eyes that could break a heart, if they didn't freeze it first to the quick.
"We have a few hours before Caoin and Callán get here. Fractures—what would you do for a broken tibia?" The mage returned, dropping back into his seat.
"Tha's the bone in the lower leg."
Dórainn only raised an eyebrow.
"Err, one o' the bones. The other's the, uhm, radius—nay, the fibula. 'tis the tibia an' the fibula," he confirmed to himself. "Uh, wot kind of fracture? Greenstick? Compound?"
"Greenstick for right now."
"Ye, um, 'ave tae realign the bone, so tha' 't meshes again. An' then—"
"Bloody hell," the mage said, shooting to his feet again, and cutting his student off. With two strides, he'd crossed the room and flung open the door, power abruptly crackling the air around him. Tam scrambled to his feet as well, as Rapunzel hurried out of the twins' room, alarmed by the sudden increase in magic on the air.
"What's the matter?" she demanded, just after Dórainn strode out the door. She and Tam exchanged looks, and headed to the door, not leaving the safety of the house, but where both could see.
"Naow, naow, laddy, ye wouldna blast yer mage-master, would ye?" the red-haired mage inquired innocuously, striding up the path. In the trees, white flashed in and out, as Damh followed, and gracefully leapt the fence to join the horses. Foolish reacted, snorting and trotting to place the other two equines between him and the newcomer, while his parents ignored the intruder with great dignity.
"Not if he arrived in the normal fashion, without turning the wards into quivering jelly with his entrance. At the moment, I'm not so sure," Dórainn replied, but the colorless, heatless waves of his energy stopped emanating outward, and he met his master's proffered hand warmly. "It is good to see you, Roarke."
"An' ye, lad. An' there's yer pretty lady," he said, watching as Rapunzel walked towards them, smiling brightly in welcome. They embraced lightly, and he held her at arms-length to better see her. "Ye look verra whell, lass. Ah suppose 'e must be treatin' ye roight—ye glow."
Her smile warmed further, and turned slightly sly. "You're the first I get to tell—he," she nodded to her husband with a mock glare, "always knows before I can tell him, the infuriating man. You're going to have more godchildren to spoil, Roarke."
"Tha's wonderful! Yer well? 'ow far along are ye?" he asked, grinning widely, as proud as any grandfather.
"I'm fine—it's going just as the twins did, no sickness, no fatigue. I'm about a month along."
"Shall we adjourn, then, to the house?" Dórainn suggested. "I fear Tam is getting a crick in his neck trying to crane his neck out the door."
"Tha' sounds grand, lad."
"Out of curiosity, incidentally, how much gold does Cináed owe you now?" Dórainn dropped slightly behind his wife, walking beside his mage-master, deep voice low.
The red-headed mage contrived to look hurt, but the amused glitter in his eye betrayed him. "Ach, boy-o, d'ye think sae little 'o me, then, tha' ye'd suggest such a thing?"
"It has nothing to do with my thinking little of you—you know full well of your place in my esteem, you may stop fishing for compliments. It's knowledge gained from thirty-some years spent as a convenient wager between the two of you."
"No' sae convenient, 'alf the time, as ye'd wager tae, an' intentionally blow both o' our bets. Yer near as bad as Sorcha, ye impertinent brat—dinna try tae pretend tha' ye've no' profited from our wee bit o' fun."
"Haven't you other apprentices to wager on by now? What about Kian, or Miikail? You are placing money on the heads of your future godchildren, Roarke."
"Nay, lad, only when they'll git 'ere. An' genders."
"And birth-weight, length, magical strength, hair and eye color. Indeed. In any case, how much does Cináed owe you? And don't tell me you've forgotten—I know you know down to the last bronze kenu."
"Ah, whell, Dór—"
"You intend, of course, to present precisely half of your take to your beloved godchildren in the form of one present or another." Silver eyes slid a sharp look at the older man.
"Ye do ken roight where tae 'it a man—Aye, aye, 'twill go tae 'em," he agreed, feeling the prick of the glance.
"Your obvious depth of feeling warms me to the core," the younger mage drawled, opening the door to his cottage and stepping back that Roarke might proceed him in. "Roarke, you and Tam have met before."
"Aye, tha' we 'ave. 'Ow are ye, lad?"
"Whell, sir, thank ye. An' ye, sir?"
"As whell as kin be expected, Ah suppose. Wot's 'e been teachin' ye, then?"
Leaving them to talk, Dórainn went to his wife, placing strong, slim hands on her hips and drawing her close. "I apologize for the scare, love."
She laughed, tilting up her face for a kiss. "It's good that your mage-master could come."
"He wouldn't have missed it for the world. He adores children, and especially those two."
"And he adores you, Dórainn," she added.
"I know, dearheart," he assured, brushing her hair away from her cheeks and cupping her face before quieting her with a kiss. He was frowning when they broke apart. "Gods, they're here early."
A moment later, Caoin's voice announced their presence.
"And the annual invasion begins," Dórainn intoned, and allowed Rapunzel to drag him out to greet the Heir and his Consort. The baby, a healthy boy recently Named after Callán's father, was brought inside and dandled, his parents offered tea. Within minutes of their arrival, the twins were again awake, adding to the growing pandemonium. The Gypsies wouldn't be far behind, Dórainn knew; they had made Staireán Sruth their summer camp for five years now, just as this reunion Rapunzel insisted on hosting had become yearly.
He smiled, watching them—who knew that so much could change in five years? He knew where the credit lay; directly at the feet of the beautiful lady he called wife. She looked up; from across the room, as though she had felt his gaze, and smiled at him in return.
Dórainn chuckled, and scooped up his son, walking to where his wife stood, their daughter chatting animatedly on Roarke's lap.
Spring was in the Deibh Pigeán Mountains once again, and the gods were smiling.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed! Thank you so, so much, everyone who read, and several more thank yous to everyone who commented!