“This is a baptism certificate dating December 12th, 1720,” Alastair said, after examining the piece of paper with a magnifying glass, “of a male child named Angus, of the Stark family. The father was Tarian Stark, and the mother his wife Agatha…now that’s odd,” the man frowned.
“Exactly,” Mallory nodded. “When he came to the colonies, in 1746, fleeing the persecutions that followed after the battle of Culloden, Tarian Stark brought his wife and four children: Caitriona, Fiona, Brennan, and Alastor. All of them are buried in the old chapel on this estate, and there’s no mention of an Angus. I checked it myself when I prepared the documents for your current will.”
“And there’s no trace of him in Scotland, either, not that I know of,” Alastair knitted his brows in confusion. “Knowing the British magistrates’ and clerks’ obsession about keeping all the paperwork in perfect order, I doubt very much that they skipped an entire trial, the sentence had to be written somewhere…”
“What sentence? Sorry, I was heading upstairs to get the girls, the door was open, and I overheard your discussion,” Willard stepped into the office, stopping in front of Alastair. “Looking good, great-uncle,” he hugged the man, smiling.
“Of course, he’s the one who always looks great. I’m just the average guy who’s lucky enough to be married to him,” Mallory grinned, imitating his husband. “Washington is good for you, kid, look at you!”
“Thank you. Sorry for interrupting whatever the two of you were working on. I’ll go upstairs now, the sleepyheads are probably awake by now, and it wouldn’t be a wise move to let them wait.”
“They can wait a little longer,” Alastair stopped Willard in his tracks, “we really could use another opinion here. Looking through some property deeds, Mallory came across a baptism certificate dating from 1720, of one Angus Stark, son of Tarian and Agatha. However, there’s no other proof of his existence, here or in Scotland. Not that I know of anyway.”
“Well, there are two possibilities here,” Willard said, after thinking a little. “Either the boy died in infancy, and the family kept the certificate as a souvenir. A reminder of his short existence or he was executed by the British in the Battle of Culloden’s aftermath for some reason. The evidence of the trial destroyed. If this Angus would have survived and produced heirs, don’t you think they would have claimed their rights to the family’s estate?”
Alastair and Mallory looked at each other, then at Willard, nodding in approval at what the young man had said. Especially the last part, that made perfect sense. Over time, the Starks’ accumulated wealth, power, and influence, their name, synonymous with success, becoming known worldwide. It would have been easy for the Scottish branch of the family, had it existed, to get in touch with them.
Alastair congratulated himself for involving his great-nephew in that family matter and asking for his opinion on it. Not only that, but it also made Willard feel important. A part of something big, but it also boosted the young man’s confidence in his judgment, so severely damaged by the person who should have protected and loved him the most.
The pitty-pat sound of Morwena and Rowena’s steps in the hallway interrupted Alastair’s musings, making him smile. Willard noticed the change in his uncle’s attitude and turned around. Only to be taken by surprise by the two little girls, who were hiding behind the office’s door.
“Big brother, you’re here!” they chirped in sync, then Morwena took the lead, as she always did. “Nanny Sue Ellen said that you were not here yet, and we should wait some more, but we still came down to check.”
“Aren’t you two brilliant little girls? And you know a lot of words for your age,” Willard knelt on the carpet, opening his arms as wide as he could. “Come here, beauties, I’ve missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too,” Rowena whispered, breathing in the scent that relaxed her as much as Alastair and Mallory’s, “Papa says we are smart like you and pretty like you. I’m quiet, like you, Rowena is chatty like Uncle Liam.”
“Indeed, that one is a chatterbox,” Willard smiled, squeezing the girls to his chest and making a colossal effort to fight back the tears pooling in his eyes.
“Was your boss mean to you again? He puts you to work, work, work, all the time, and you can’t visit us,” Morwena pouted a little.
“No, he’s not. It’s just that someone has to deal with all that boring stuff, and that someone is me. But I’m here now, and I’ll stay for two whole days. How about that?”
“Yay! That’s great! We’ll be playing hide and seek all day long!” Morwena wrapped her little arms around Willard’s neck and covering his face with kisses.
“Will you read us an extra bedtime story?” Rowena whispered into the young man’s ear, making him smile brightly.
“Yes, and we’ll also have an epic pillow fight before the two of you go to bed. The winner will get a special prize,” the young man nodded. “What about going outside and playing until dinner time, so your Papa and Daddy can finish work? Maybe they will join us later. Wouldn’t that be cool?”
Morwena and Rowena nodded, their dark-green eyes shining with pure joy. Willard rose to his feet, flanked by the girls he held by the hands as the three of them headed to the monumental front door. The little ones started to chirp again, and the man was listening to them fascinated, interrupted here and there with a short question.
From the main office window, Alastair and Mallory watched the father and his daughters playing, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. Closing his eyes, the patriarch remembered the first time he’d gone to visit Willard, at Liam’s insistence. The young man had looked pale, exhausted, and at the end of his rope. But the shine in his eyes told a completely different story.
Speaking in a harsh, inquisitorial voice, Alastair had started to ask him all kinds of questions, but the answers he got surprised him most pleasantly. The patriarch was enraged to find out that Pauline had emptied all Willard’s accounts, leaving him penniless with two infants. He didn’t want any charity, the young man said, just the chance to demonstrate what he was capable of.
And then, Alastair came up with what proved to be the perfect solution for everything: he and Mallory were going to adopt Morwena and Rowena, but their biological father continued to play an essential role in their life. The former CIA director also encouraged his great-nephew to apply for a position as an independent consultant for the Department of Defense.
Willard gratefully agreed with everything, got the job, and made himself noticed by the big bad bosses at the Pentagon. During that period, the young man had also discovered his sexuality. After briefly struggling against the obvious, he finally embraced his true self, surrendering to the strict but caring Headmaster of the Dominus, a reputable BDSM club Ian was a member of.
The crystalline laughter of the little girls and carefree sound Willard was making brought a smile on Alastair’s face, and he wrapped an arm around Mallory’s waist, drawing him closer. Thanks to the love and support that wonderful, amazing man showed him for the last seven years, he was able to help the young generations, watching how they became the independent, brilliant men and women he was proud of.
Roone Stark locked the door of the basement, climbing the stairs that lead straight to the library. The passage was known only to him, as the head of the Stark clan, the descendants of ancient Scotland’s kings. He was also a druid, the bearer of secrets and magic, protector of the family, healer, and clairvoyant, although the last gift hadn’t appropriately manifested during the previous two decades.
Maybe it did, but Roone suddenly became unworthy in the eyes of the spirits and deities he’d worshipped for the last forty-five years, and they refused to reveal to him the true meaning behind the visions that plagued his nights and days. The man let out a heavy sigh, trying to understand what he has done wrong.
Like his father, grandfather, and all his ancestors who’d held the position, Roone always paid respects to the dead and brought offerings to the deities of the land so that they could show benevolence to the inhabitants of Torridon Hall, the creed of the Starks from immemorial times.
Still, it seemed that he would die without a spiritual heir from his flesh and blood, as Angus, his younger brother’s only son, had turned seventeen two months earlier, and the magic he was supposed to carry hadn’t manifested. More than that, the boy always had delicate health and a weak constitution, unlike his twin sister Morgana, who was so full of life, energy, and, Roone suspected, magic.
But she couldn’t be a druid; no woman was fit for the job. That had obsessively appeared in all the books and scrolls he read. However, the girl could still be a great healer if she possessed that gift. Sunk in his favorite armchair, the man sighed. Wishing things could have been different, for instance, the decisions he made, especially those that altered his brother’s life, changing its course forever.
When Rory brought Gail home, Roone had detected the girl’s health problems on the spot, but he also saw that she would get pregnant, giving birth to a girl and a boy, the spiritual heir he needed. The vision was very clear about the supreme price the mother would pay for bringing the two children into the world, but the druid ignored it.
He encouraged Rory to date, court, and later proposed to Gail, which the younger man enthusiastically did. Three months after the wedding, the new lady of Torridon Hall announced she was pregnant, and everyone was on cloud nine, including Roone, who prepared teas and potions to boost her immunity and energy.
Everything went well during the nine months of pregnancy, and the druid hoped against all the odds that the ill-fortune would be nullified. However, the deities showed him how wrong he was when, after a smooth start, his sister-in-law suddenly suffered a heart attack in the middle of delivery.
As the doctors were fighting for the woman’s life, Angus saw the light of day, much more fragile than his sister and barely breathing. Rory, shocked by his beloved wife’s premature death, never remarried, dedicating his life to the children she’d given birth to. As for Roone, he saw his hopes of having a spiritual heir from the Stark clan crushed in cruel ways.
The deities spoke to him again, though, and the message was clear as daylight: the one who was going to follow in his footsteps was a man of great spiritual force, who’d overcome tremendous hardships and saved countless lives. According to the vision, he lived in the former colonies across the ocean, and Roone had to travel there to meet him.
He will do that, and everything else that would be necessary to meet that man. No more mistakes, no more foolishly ignoring the warnings, he said to himself. Everything would be arranged the right way, and it was the last chance.