Into the Fire
by Pam and Del
. . . Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken . . .
--William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
PART FORTY: "Journey's End"
"Name and age?" asked the blacksmith.
"Archibald Kennedy Stewart." It was the closest he could get to the name with which he had been born. "Twenty-eight."
"Of course," Archie said, in some surprise.
The smith did not quite roll his eyes but he looked as though he wanted to. "And you, ma'am?" he asked, turning towards the woman standing with her groom before the anvil.
"Medora Rose Drummond Tresilian," she replied. "Twenty-three, spinster."
The smith grunted approvingly at her efficiency, as his wife scribbled down the bride's name in a well-worn ledger.
"Would that be one 'l' or two, lassie?" she inquired, in almost maternal tones.
"One, thank you," Medora said demurely.
Archie stole an anxious glance at her and saw she was biting her lower lip in an effort not to laugh. Anxiety yielded to relief and he squeezed the hand resting on his arm.
Taking out a battered-looking book from his coat pocket, the smith flipped it open to what was clearly a familiar place and began to read the marriage service. Archie and Medora listened attentively, making all the necessary responses when called upon to do so.
After the smith pronounced that they were man and wife together, Archie slipped the ring onto Medora's finger and drew her into a kiss, which she returned with enthusiasm. When they surfaced at last, it was to meet not only the knowing smiles of the blacksmith and his wife but the broader grins of their various witnesses, standing at the back of the shop.
Archie grinned back at all of them indiscriminately, then pocketed his marriage lines, took Medora's hand, and led the way outside. The day was cool and overcast but a pale Michaelmas sun was just to be glimpsed through the clouds. Not a bad omen, especially for Scotland in the early autumn.
Beside him, Medora lifted her face to the sky and laughed. Relieved, Archie turned to smile at her. She wore a walking dress of cream-colored wool, embroidered with fine crewelwork--becoming, but nothing like the satin-and-lace confections worn by so many fashionable brides.
"My rose, are you sure you do not regret this?" he asked. "I know this isn't exactly St. George's in Hanover Square--"
"No, and I thank God for it!" she returned. "On reflection, I do not think a large wedding would suit me at all." She squeezed his arm. "We have all we need, dear heart--and our friends here too, to wish us well."
It had certainly taken long enough to bring everything together, Archie reflected, even for this simple ceremony. Their month of separation had stretched to nearly three, once Kilcarron's organization had learned of Bonaparte's plan to invade this very summer. Fate, or chance, had intervened, however, when Napoleon's trusted subordinate, Admiral Latouche-Treville--commander of the French fleet at Toulon--had died unexpectedly in August. The Edinburgh division, among others, had gone into days of intensive planning, trying to find the best advantage they could make of the consequent disorganization.
Archie had initially chafed at the delay, but he could admit to himself now that the wait had resulted in certain compensations, such as the presence of both his sisters and Langford at the wedding. Several members of Edinburgh division had found the opportunity to attend as well, including Carmichael who had returned from Calais last week.
Speaking of which . . .
"Where is everyone, do you suppose?" Archie asked his bride. "I thought they were right behind us when we left the smithy?"
Scarcely had he spoken, when the door burst open behind them, releasing a crowd of laughing well-wishers who pelted them with dried flower petals and herbs.
Grinning, Archie held up a shielding arm and set off with Medora at a run for the nearest inn.
In the private parlor of the Twa Corbies, they sat down to a repast fine enough for a wedding breakfast: fresh bannocks, eggs, sliced meats, and smoked fish, accompanied by steaming tea and coffee. Langford even produced several bottles of champagne, brought carefully up from London, to toast the newly wedded couple. The innkeeper's wife surprised them all by sending in a tipsy cake, bringing the meal to a festive conclusion.
Carmichael and the other agents had departed soon after the toasts had been drunk, leaving only family behind. Archie sipped at the last of his champagne and listened avidly as Langford and Alice filled him on the last two years, with occasional contributions from Margaret and Medora. Although Archie had heard some of their news before, he did not think he was likely to tire of it any time soon. This, after all, was what families did--and he had been starved of this far too long.
Once again, he relived that moment in the inn stableyard when his sisters had descended from their coaches and seen him. They had both stared in silence, then simply fallen upon him, letting embraces say what words could not. Alice had laughed and cried at the same time, Margaret had just gazed at him as if she could never look her fill. They had yielded him only to Medora, whom Archie had kissed long and thoroughly enough to set several stablehands sniggering.
And then there had been Rosemary, clinging to her nurse's hand and staring round-eyed at everything. Not wanting to alarm her, Archie had let Medora handle the business, introducing the little girl to "the man who would be her Papa." Archie had smiled and crouched down to his daughter's level. She had not run into his arms, of course, but after several moments, she had returned his smile and offered a small hand. Gravely clasping the tiny fingers, Archie had felt his heart fill almost to the brim.
And now, as he looked about the room containing so many of his loved ones, his heart felt full to overflowing. A wife, a daughter, two sisters, and a brother-in-law whom he liked and respected. Medora's brother Henry had sent his best wishes too, but his wife was expecting a child soon, and as she could not travel, he did not wish to leave her. Archie did not know exactly what Medora had told her remaining family and friends in Cornwall, but she assured him that all was well. Being apart for so long, she added, had at least given her time to come up with a better story.
"And this should please both you and Medora," Alice announced brightly.
"What should?" Archie inquired, recalled to the present.
She dimpled at him. "Woolgathering, my dear? Well--no matter. I thought you should know, Medora, that Malcolm's bride and I have -- compelled him to yield to his better nature!"
Medora's eyes widened. "You mean--?"
"'Dinnae be sich a curst skinflint! You'll nae be takin' the bread frae the mouths of widows and puir, wee, faitherless lassies!'" Alice deftly mimicked her new sister-in-law's Highland brogue, then resumed her own accent, smiling broadly. "Papa left some money in trust for Medora and Rosemary--a good ten thousand pounds--but Malcolm didn't want to part with it. Margery and I, however, joined forces and persuaded him otherwise. So there's to be a bankers' draft made up and sent to you, Medora, at the earliest opportunity."
"I like her already," Margaret observed dryly.
"The new Lady Kennedy is definitely a force to be reckoned with," Langford said. "I suspect that if your brother Malcolm thinks to rule the roost, he is destined to be disappointed."
Archie chuckled. "That I should like to see!"
Medora's eyes were luminous. "Thank you. It's not that we need the money so much, but to know that Rosemary's grandfather considered us family--"
"You and Rosemary have always been family," Alice interrupted. "And now," she added, smiling at both Archie and Medora, "even more so."
"Indeed," Margaret said firmly. "And Alice has even worked out how we -- might be related, Mr. Stewart."
The sound of his nom de guerre on his sister's lips made Archie's brows rise. He glanced inquiringly from her to Alice.
"It's quite simple," Alice explained. "Clearly, you must be the natural son of our *Uncle* Archibald--the one who died in the American War, but sowed more than his share of wild oats beforehand."
Archie stared a moment longer, then found himself grinning. His late uncle and namesake had indeed sired at least two sideslips before meeting his untimely--though some thought it not timely enough--end in the former colonies. "Convenient," he remarked. "I suppose that accounts for the family resemblance?"
"And the name," Alice replied. "As many mothers often name their sons for their fathers. So," she concluded, "we are first cousins, who choose to acknowledge our connection. And, as you have married a lady who is like a sister to us, no one should think it strange that we call you 'brother' too. What do you think?" she asked, looking expectantly around the room.
"I think," Archie said, after a meditative pause, "that Kilcarron committed something of an oversight by not recruiting you."
"Pray don't give him any ideas," Alice's husband said dryly.
They all laughed at that, and the conversation moved on to other subjects. Langford had ostensibly come up to Scotland for the shooting but none of his acquaintance would think twice of his spending some time in Edinburgh with his wife. Margaret's husband Douglas was in Glasgow with his regiment, so no one would question her presence in Scotland either.
"I'll join him in a week or so," Margaret said. "Edinburgh and Glasgow are not so distant, after all. But there is the matter of finding you three a proper house."
"Indeed," Alice struck in. "We hope that you'll consider our advice on the matter."
"Wouldn't dream of doing otherwise," Archie assured them.
At this point, Medora observed that Rosemary, who had joined them for the wedding breakfast, was looking decidedly sleepy and needed to be taken back upstairs to her nurse. Soon after, the party broke up, with everyone retiring to their respective chambers.
Archie joined Medora upstairs, watching as she put their daughter to bed. Afterwards, hand in hand, they made their way to their own adjoining room and barred the door.
It was, after all, still their wedding day.
"Happy, dear heart?" Medora asked, as they watched the moon rise through their chamber window.
"Entirely," he assured her. "And you?"
"Ecstatic," she replied, holding up her hand and smiling at the way her wedding ring caught the moonlight.
"Do you like it?" he asked. "I found in Edinburgh last week. It's very plain, I know, but there's a nice bit of scrollwork about it."
"I love it--and you." Medora's tone was soft. "We're really married now, aren't we."
He wrapped his arms more closely around her. "Yes. Although I still wish it could have something grander than a Gretna Green elopement."
"It was quick and perfectly legal," his practical wife retorted. "And perhaps even fitting."
"What d'you mean by that?"
"Well, in a way--we've both been through the fire, haven't we?" she said, looking reflective. "So perhaps it was only appropriate that we married in a smithy."
"Perhaps it was, at that," Archie conceded, after several moments' thought. Surely what they shared had been forged in fire--and possibly become all the stronger for that. "All the same," he added, "perhaps someday, we can have a small church service too."
"I'll marry you as often as you like," she assured him. Her smile grew mischievous. "Perhaps Rosemary could even be part of the ceremony too! If nothing else, she would adore having another pretty dress to wear."
"She can have all the pretty dresses she wants." Archie sighed, experiencing more than a trace of regret. "I wish I had not missed so much of her first years."
"So do I." Medora's smile was bittersweet. Even if Kingston had never occurred, both knew that Archie still might not have been there to witness his daughter's first words and steps. Such was the price of a career in the service. "But -- I do have something that might help."
Leaving their bed, she made her way over to her trunks, pausing only to don one of their discarded garments--his shirt, Archie noted with amusement. He watched with interest as she rummaged through her things, then emerged triumphant, brandishing something in her right hand.
"That looks very much like a book," he observed as she returned to the bed.
"It is," she confirmed. "Two years ago, when you were -- believed lost, I started keeping a record of events in Rosemary's life." Her expression turned rueful, even a little melancholy. "I think it helped me to stay sane."
Archie put an arm around her shoulders and drew her close.
"It's not a very comprehensive record, I'm afraid," Medora went on. "And I wasn't the most faithful correspondent. Sometimes I went days or weeks at a time without writing--"
"Hush!" he interrupted. "It'll be splendid, Medora Rose--and it's more than I dared hope for. Thank you." Accepting the slim volume, he glanced quizzically at her. "Shall I begin now?"
She smiled at him, resting her head against his shoulder. "Whatever you choose, dear heart. Whatever you choose."
"Shame to waste all this moonlight," Archie remarked, settling back down against the pillows. Opening the book, he turned to the first page and read aloud.
"The first of May, 1802. She has her father's eyes . . . "
All yet seems well, and if it end so meet,
The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.
--William Shakespeare, "All's Well that Ends Well"