The Black Death did not discriminate.
Like fire from hell, it spread across England, Wales, Italy and France. Untethered, unstoppable.
It cared not if the lives it took were of the noble and wealthy or the lowly born and poor. It showed no preference for age or gender. It took the wicked and the innocent. It took the blasphemers and the righteous.
The Black Death took whomever it damned well pleased.
It took Rowan Graham’s wife.
Rowan would not allow his sweet wife to die alone, cold, afraid, and in agony, no matter how much she begged otherwise. He would not allow anyone else to administer the herbs, to apply the poultices, or to even wipe her brow. He was her husband and she, his entire life.
Knowing that the Black Death had finally reached Scotland, Rowan’s clan had prepared as best they could. The moment anyone began to show signs of illness, they were immediately taken to the barracks. Seclusion was their only hope at keeping the illness from spreading.
Within a week, the barracks could hold no more of the sick and dying. The quarantine was all for naught.
By the time Kate showed the first signs of the illness, the Black Death had taken more than thirty of their people. Before it over, Clan Graham’s numbers dwindled to less than seventy members.
At Kate’s insistence, their three-month-old daughter was kept in seclusion. It was the last act of motherly love that she could show her child. In the hours just before her death, Kate begged for Rowan’s promise on two matters.
“Ye shall never be afraid to speak of me to our daughter. It is important that she know how much I loved her, and how much we loved her together.” ’Twas an easy promise for Rowan to make, for how could he ever forget Kate?
’Twas the second promise she asked that threatened to tear him apart.
“And ye must promise ye’ll let another woman into yer heart. Do not save it long fer me, husband. Yer too good a man to keep yerself to a dead woman.”
He swore to her that yes, someday he would allow his heart to love another. Silently however, he knew that day would be in the very distant future, mayhap thirty or forty years. For there could never be a woman who could take Kate’s place in his life or his heart.
“I love ye, Kate, more than me next breath,” Rowan whispered into her ear just before her chest rose and fell for the last time.
Fires were built to burn the dead. When Rowan’s first lieutenant came to remove Kate’s body to add it to the funeral pyres, he refused to allow Frederick anywhere near her. Rowan’s face turned purple with rage, his chest heaved from the weight of his unconstrained anguish. He unsheathed his sword and pinned Frederick to the wall.
“If ye so much as think of laying a finger to Kate, I shall take yer life,” Rowan seethed. Frederick knew it was a promise Rowan meant to keep.
Later, with his vision blurred from tears he could not suppress, Rowan bathed his wife’s once beautiful body now ravaged with large black boils. He washed her long, strawberry blonde locks and combed them until they shined once again. When he was done, he placed a bit of Graham plaid into the palm of her hand before wrapping her cold body in long linen strips.
Alone in the quiet hours before dawn he carried her to final resting place under the tall Wych Elm tree. He stayed next to her grave for three full days.
Frederick finally came to see him late in the afternoon of the third day.
“I ken yer grievin’, fer Kate was a fine woman.” Frederick said. “Ye’ve a wee bairn that needs ye, Rowan. She needs ye now, more than Kate does.”
Rowan was resting against the elm tree, with his head resting on his knees. In his heart he knew Frederick was right, but that did nothing the help fill the dark void that Kate’s death left in his heart.
For a brief moment, Rowan could have sworn he heard his wife’s voice agreeing with Frederick. Deciding it best not to argue the point with either of them, Rowan took a deep breath and pulled himself to his feet.
For now, he would focus on the first promise he had made to Kate.
“Ye be right, Frederick,” Rowan said as he slapped one hand on his friend’s back while wiping away tears with the other. “I need to go tell me daughter all about her beautiful mum.”