A snippet from my novel “Dark Birthright”, from a chapter named “Visitation”.
Drake Castle, Aberdeenshire, December 1620
Lord James Drake, Duke of Seaford, sat in a brocade chair in his wife’s bedroom. That morning the priest had performed last rites, crushing his hope for a recovery. His heart was heavy as he watched his son Andrew kneeling at his mother’s bedside. “So this is how it ends,” he thought. “God in heaven! How could ye take her before me?” He fingered the ivory rosary beads, but words of comfort escaped him.
Andrew patted her limp hand and kissed her forehead. “Goodbye, Mother.” He stood and faced the Duke, squeezing his shoulder. “Father. She’s talking nonsense. She knows I’m here, but she sees Christal as well.”
James’ eyes filled with tears. “Christal! Oh God, my heart is an open wound. I can’t bear to lose both of them.”
“I loved my sister as well.”
“She must be dead,” he sobbed. “I offered a king’s ransom for her return. No alliance is worth this agony! Why did I ask her to marry him?”
“Father. It’s not your fault. The Earl is a despicable man.” Andrew sniffled. “The end is near. I’ll leave ye alone.”
James trembled as his son hugged him. The young man sighed and left the room. He moved his chair close to the bed and sat at her side, holding her hand. Jeanne’s breathing was labored and body frail from the long struggle. Healers from as far away as Aberdeen had tried to save her, admitting defeat. She wanted to die.
Her sunken eyes focused on his face. “James…”
“Jeanne.” A tear slid down his face. “Don’t leave me, lass.”
She smiled, reminding him why he stayed faithful all these years. His heart was breaking.
“James. Christal is here to help me to pass. Do ye not see her?”
He felt a chill, as though something passed through him. “Dear God.” He gripped her hand. “That bastard killed her, didn’t he?”
A shadow of pain passed over her face. Her body shuddered.
“Shhhhh… I don’t have much time. Christal asks that you find her son. He’s in grave danger.”
James felt a ghostly hand on his cheek and stiffened. His voice choked with emotion. “Christal’s son? How will I know the child?”
Jeanne closed her eyes and nodded, as if to a presence in the room. “The lad bears the mark of the Gordon clan on his right shoulder.”
James swallowed hard. “Where is he? Tell me.”
Jeanne opened her eyes and tried to speak, but her voice was weak. “Look to the sea, Husband.”
“The sea? This is Scotland. It’s all around us. Where does the lad live?”
Her lips moved, but no sound came out. He leaned forward as she whispered. “Farewell, James. I love ye.”
“Nay!” he cried, grasping her hand. “God help me. I can’t live without ye, lass.” Jeanne closed her eyes, a smile fading on her lips, and released a last breath. She was gone. James stood and held a hand on her chest, hoping to find a heartbeat. There was none. “Oh God! Let me die with her.” He buried his face in his hands and cried, shaking in grief.
Andrew entered the room and made the sign of the cross. “Poor Mother. She never recovered from Christal’s disappearance.” He clutched his father’s shoulders. “Her suffering is over. She didn’t deserve it.”
James sobbed openly. “She’s dead. Oh God, why couldn’t it be me? How can I go on?”
Andrew drew him close. “I need ye, Father. I’m not ready to be Duke.”
The older man gulped air and steeled himself. “Of course. Duty calls. I love ye, Son.” He stiffened as he remembered her last request. “I have to go on. There’s a child I must find.”
Andrew frowned. “What child?”
James’ eyes were wild. “My grandson! Christal’s son. She was in the room when your mother passed.”
Andrew looked skeptical. “Father… You haven’t slept in days.”
“I tell ye she was!”
Andrew hugged him. “Come to the chapel with me. We’ll pray for Mother’s soul, and then you can tell me about it.”
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These novels are illustrated by fantasy artist Jane Starr Weils.