Author's Note: A special thank you to all of you who have made this journey with me. It has been a joy to write for you and to know you have enjoyed reading what I've written. This tale has now come to its end, though perhaps it will warrant a sequel in time. I intend to return to shorter pieces (continuity across so many chapters is difficult!) that are more rooted in what is happening on the show. If anyone has ideas over the hiatus for something you would like to read, PM me. I make no guarantees but an idea might take root and bloom into a great fic.
Warning: This last chapter is quite fluffy. I felt it was the only way to end it and, so, I do hope you enjoy it! Also, I took the liberty of making up a last name for one of the characters. Hopefully, you won't mind. :)
The months slipped by, spring into summer and summer into autumn, and the physic's suspicions were confirmed by Mary's swelling abdomen. She and Francis placed bets with one another regarding the child's gender and arrival. Letters galloped back and forth between France and Scotland in anticipation of the event.
And, as the trees began to lose their leaves in preparation for winter, Mary found herself confined to their rooms. She had been instructed to lay in bed all day and to keep out the sunlight, both old superstitions she was not keen to follow in spite of her midwives' protests.
Francis kept her abreast of any political developments, though little was happening at the time. At the knowledge that Mary's line would continue in conjunction with that of France, Elizabeth had ceased open attempts to attack Scotland and the Scots had settled well into having both king and queen once more. When time allowed, Francis found himself with Mary, reading to her from the castle's extensive collection of books and sneaking in games, food, and whatever Mary's heart desired.
As the sun began to rise in the early hours of a bleak November day, Francis remained in the corridor outside their door, exiled while his wife labored. His back to the wall, he had long been seated, his joints stiff. There had been no sleep that night for him. Mary's screams finally abated and he then heard a healthy cry cut through the new quiet.
The cries ceased and the door creaked open. Aylee stood on the other side, a tired grin on her face. Francis rose, wringing his hands a bit.
"She's just fine, Francis." She noted as the worry relaxed in his eyes. "And so is your son."
Francis staggered back to the wall, suddenly needing it to support his weight. The stress of the last days and the reality of having a child of his own overcame him and his eyes began to water ever-so-slightly. We have a son!
"May I see them?" He inquired hesitantly, unsure of the protocol as a new father. Aylee stepped aside, nodding.
"Of course. They have just finished the necessary cleaning."
Francis walked into the room, which was still mostly dark. The window coverings had at last been pulled back to welcome the new child's first day.
Women bustled about, preparing sheets and bed clothes to be taken for laundering, boiling water in the fireplace, and catering to Mary's every need, but Francis only saw her in the midst of all the activity. She had been propped up in the bed, long dark tresses tied back and still damp from her exertion, and wrapped in one of her favorite dressing gowns.
He approached and she lifted her face to meet his, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She lifted a finger to her lips and pointed to the cradle that had been pulled alongside the bed, the cradle that had been a gift from Francis' parents. Inside, a small pink creature had been thoroughly swaddled and interred. Francis crouched down to see the small boy, exhaling deeply every anxiety and fear he had carried for many months.
Seeing how transfixed he was by the tiny sleeper, Mary rested her hand on his shoulder.
He turned to look up at her, taking in the obvious exhaustion coupled with something he couldn't quite yet name. Peace, mixed with elation and contentedness.
"Mary ... " His voice caught as he took her in, cracking with unexpressed emotion. He rose and seated himself next to her on the bed. She merely took his hand into hers.
"I know," she whispered, her entire countenance shining through her smile. "I know."
"How is the progress coming regarding the confiscation of Lord Lindsay's holdings?" Mary wasted no time in questioning her husband as he returned from a meeting in the council chamber.
"Just one moment and I will freely answer any question you ask. For now," he bent to kiss her and to take their son from her arms. "For now, I would like to see how my son is doing."
Mary handed over the child, drinking in her husband in his role as father. After how little parenting either of them had really had, how little love shown to them in their growing years, they had worried over their ability to have and love their own children. They needn't have wasted their time, as both fell in love quickly with little James Henry and instinct took over just as quickly.
"Francis?" Mary tried to attract his attention once more. "Lord Lindsay's holdings?"
He glanced up and let loose a low chuckle at her impatience. "Yes, they have been confiscated. His family has relocated to England voluntarily and seems to have no desire to return."
"Excellent." Her excitement was palpable. "When can we grant his title and holdings to another?"
Francis loved his wife's heart, especially as they had conspired on this particular plan together. He grinned as he responded, "As soon as you would like, my love."
Greer assisted Mary in setting her hair for the evening. As Mary had finally been allowed to rejoin the Court, a banquet was being held in her and James' honor. The latter would not be in attendance himself and would be carefully watched as he slept by Aylee and Kenna. Lola and Greer would attend to Mary at the festivities.
Mary's gaze drifted to the cradle where James slept and her heart clenched. "Greer, I can't possibly leave him! What could I have been thinking, agreeing to such an event so soon?"
Greer smiled knowingly, reassuring her queen that all would be well. "Aylee and Kenna will take good care of James," she said. "And, should anything happen, one of them will send for you at once. You will only be downstairs, Mary, enjoying a well-earned evening with your husband."
"Yes, of course," sighed Mary. "I am just being silly, that's all."
The door opened and Francis entered. Greer curtsied and quit the room, citing her own need to get dressed for the evening. Francis offered Mary his hand and helped her rise from her seat. He looked over his wife, adorned in regal garments for the first time in months, her crown perched upon her head.
"You are beautiful, wife." He saw a flush appear on the apples of her cheeks. He took her face gently into his hands and pressed a kiss to her lips. "I am certainly a fortunate man, to have so many blessings bestowed upon my life."
A knock sounded at the door and Aylee and Kenna entered, knowing they were expected. Francis offered Mary his arm, asking, "Shall we?"
Nodding, Mary lifted her skirts with one hand and slipped her other through his arm.
"We shall." Turning to the waiting ladies, she added, "Please do not hesitate to let me know if James needs me."
"We won't," assured Aylee, smiling. "Go. Enjoy your evening. Give Greer the surprise of a lifetime."
They entered the hall and were greeted by courtiers eager to celebrate the birth of a new prince and the re-emergence of their charming queen. The meal finished, Francis stood to address those gathered.
"Our dear family, friends, and most trusted advisors, we thank you for coming to celebrate the birth of our son, James Henry, Crown Prince of Scotland. We are thrilled at his arrival. There is another matter to celebrate, however. It pleases my wife and I to inform you that the Lindsay family has successfully been removed to England."
Silence sat all around, everyone holding his or her breath to see what would become of this most unusual announcement rooted in a family's treason. Francis looked to Mary, a twinkle in his eye to match that in her own. She nodded.
"It is my great pleasure to announce that we have decided to grant the Lindsay family holdings and lordship to someone who has displayed incredible bravery, courage and loyalty to both the Scottish and French crowns. This young man took upon himself the responsibility of warning us of Darnley and Lindsay's plot, a plot that likely would have taken our throne and our lives. I present to you the first lord of his name, Leith of Docherty."
Clapping broke out as Leith came from the side. Mary had been watching Greer all the while Francis had been speaking. The shock registered openly on her face, overjoy creeping into every feature.
"Now, let us continue with our celebration. I, for one, am eager to dance with my wife. Please join us!" Francis concluded his small speech by raising a goblet of wine.
He collected his wife from her seat and guided her toward the floor as the musicians began to play. They both noticed as Greer slipped over to Leith. Mary's sole untitled lady still believed, after all this time, that no one had discovered her relationship with the kitchen boy. Francis and Mary both laughed, excited for the details to play out. Leith had been told earlier in the day and commanded not to tell Greer, but that hadn't stopped him from immediately dispatching a letter to her family asking for her hand in marriage.
"You seem very pleased with yourself." Mary felt Francis smile as he whispered into her ear. His breath fell on her neck, causing her to shiver. How long has it been since I last enjoyed my husband? she asked herself, feeling desire for him emerge.
They danced and spoke with courtiers and friends, enjoying the first of many celebrations that would mark the season, as Christmas would soon be upon them. Too soon, however, Francis noticed Mary tire and her longing to be returned to the sleeping babe upstairs. He excused them from their conversation with Lord Fleming and led her back to their rooms.
Inside, Aylee and Kenna were reading by the fireplace, James still safely tucked away in his cradle. Only the ladies' eagerness to know how the evening had gone broke the room's hush.
They left soon after hearing the details of Leith's pronouncement and Greer's shock. Mary wandered over to check on James, knowing he would wake soon and demand to be fed. She snatched the nightgown Aylee had set out for her on a chair and began her attempts to ready herself for bed. The crown came off easily enough, but she struggled to loosen the corset, as it was the first she had worn in many months.
About to give up in frustration, Francis came up behind her and began to loosen the laces. "Let me help you with that, my love."
She savored the brush of his hands against her back and then relished her release from the form-preserving device. He assisted her in pulling her dress over her head and in replacing it with the nightgown.
"Better?" he asked, receiving one of her quiet nods in reply. He remove his jacket and began to prepare himself for bed, knowing they would try to sleep after James had eaten, for as long as the little one would let them. Mary had refused a wet nurse, at least for the time being, choosing instead to experience motherhood fully in all of its joys and fatigues.
James began to whimper and Mary crossed over to gather him into her arms. As the babe hungrily settled in to suck at his mother's breast, Mary turned to Francis.
"The evening was wonderful," she said softly. "But there is no other place I'd rather be than right here with my two favorite men."
He placed a kiss on her cheek and sat at her side, opening a letter that had just arrived from France replete with the Medici seal. Scanning it quickly, he relayed its contents to Mary.
"It looks as if we will have guests for Christmas. My mother intends to come and meet her grandson and Bash will accompany her for her protection and, I suspect, with the hope of spending some time with the lady Lola. From his last letter, I gather they have been corresponding since we left and he seems quite smitten. My mother writes that they will stay for an extended visit."
Mary laughed at this bit of news, particularly at the thought of Catherine and Bash traveling together, but also excited to share their son with Francis' family. She sighed happily. "I am glad that they are coming. It will be wonderful to have your family in our home for a season."
"It most certainly will be, Mary. I look forward to seeing them, but may I tell you something else?"
"You may ... " Mary agreed, though she seemed a bit wary at the tone in her husband's voice.
"I," Francis began, his face earnest. "I am so very much in love with you, wife." He leaned over to kiss her nose. "Thank you for the amazing privilege of finding a home with you."
James began to fuss a bit, his feeding finished, at which Francis chuckled and took him from Mary. "And you as well, little James. You as well."
He walked the infant over to the cradle, knowing the boy would return quickly to his slumber. Mary had moved to the bed and he joined her there, pulling back the covers long enough to help her into them. He climbed in and brought her body flush against his own.
"I am serious, Mary, when I say it is an honor to be at your side, to have a home with you. It is more than I ever thought I would have."
She sighed and snuggled more deeply into his arms, absorbing the warmth of his body. "It is only a home because you are here, Francis."
And they slept swiftly and peacefully, at least for a few hours.