The following is an extract from the short story “Happy Ever After” published in “Child’s Eye.”
Dad startled her.
“It says here that by your age Mary had been married and widowed to her first husband, the King of France. Did you know that?” he shouted across the room.
Rachel shook her head. Dad put his arm into the air, encouraging her to come closer. He was standing in front of tapestries or batiks, which hung on the wall. When she looked closely she could see the skill involved in creating such works of art. The colours were vibrant.
“Batiks!” dad shouted across to mum and Abigail who were on the opposite side of the room. They were deep in conversation, pointing to something from the window, tracing the River Tweed which flowed close to the castle’s feet.
“It’s a good thing there are no other visitors today, all this shouting,” Rachel said but dad was too excited to listen.
“These show Mary’s life story,” he said. “Here’s Mary arriving in Scotland, at Leith port in Edinburgh, standing on Scottish soil for the first time since she was five years old.”
He pointed to a batik which depicted an anchored ship in a harbour port, a group of well-heeled aristocracy and standing centre-stage, a young woman dressed in white.
“La Reine Blanche,” dad breathed. “They got the time wrong, you know. There was no-one there to greet her.”
“Typical!” Rachel thought.
“And this must be Lord Darnley, her second husband. You know the story there don’t you?”
Rachel shook her head. She didn’t know it and she didn’t want to know but she suspected dad was going to tell her, whatever.
“He hoped to become King of Scotland one day, rule in his own right,” dad gushed, blind to the fact his middle daughter was only half listening.
“So Darnley wasn’t happy when Mary fell pregnant with his child. He hatched a plot to murder her closest advisor, a poor man called Rizzio, right there in front of her in the hope he might terrify her into a miscarriage. She feared for her own life, of course – who wouldn’t? – but still bore him a son, James VI, and Lord Darnley’s chances of ruling Scotland were scuppered. That’s how the story …..”
Her dad stopped speaking mid sentence.
Rachel took a deep breath and kept her eyes away from dad’s face. She stared up at Mary’s portrait, took in the tall stature, the auburn hair, the bold, hazel eyes.
“I’m pregnant,” she said again, this time a little louder.
“You’re what?” her dad asked.
Such a funny word she thought and then, before she could stop herself, “where does it come from?”
Dad rose to his full height, the same height as Mary, Queen of Scots. Here we go, Rachel thought.
“Well I think, young lady, only you can answer that question.”
She turned to look at her father. She’d played this moment through in her head countless times over the past nine days but it had never played out quite like this.
“I meant the word,” she said.
“You tell me you’re pregnant and you want to know where the word comes from?” her dad was trying hard to keep control of his voice.
“For God’s sake Rachel. I think there are more important things to consider than where the word comes from.”
“What word?” mum asked as she joined them.
She looked enquiringly from Rachel to dad, took in their faces.
“I’m pregnant,” Rachel said again, louder this time.
“Oh, Good Lord!” Mum covered her mouth with her hand.
It was easier to look at the wall than at her parents. Rachel found herself face to face with Mary’s feet. She imagined the carpet being pulled from under them. Is this how Mary felt when she arrived back in Scotland from France: husbandless, friendless, not knowing what this new territory might hold?
“How long?’ asked mum.
“Eight weeks?” said Rachel.
“I need a cup of coffee,” dad declared, “a strong one.”
“Isn’t coffee bad for you when you’re pregnant?” Abigail asked innocently and everyone turned to glare at her.