Coluim found himself wound into a complex knot of emotions. Real or illusion, he was captivated by this scene from the end of his life. He was saddened to see his queen so aged and frail by his bed and proud of the man his son Mael would become, bearing this event on upright shoulders. The prince had a kind face, and Coluim was relieved when he saw this. Good. Good that Mael should enter his reign naturally. Good that we led him this far with love, not discipline or fear. My son in waking life is so young, his future so open. Please let him become this man.
The Coluim in his deathbed stirred and looked at the people surrounding him. He smiled faintly. He reached a hand out to his son, and one to his wife. He began speaking, too quietly for the young Coluim. The queen leaned over her husband to hear his words. Tears streaming from her face, she nodded. The old king settled his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. His hands fell to the bedclothes and he took his final breath. The room was quiet and calm; there were neither the mourning wails that followed the tragic death of a king too young nor the cold buzz of business that followed the death of a despised ruler who outstayed his welcome. This was acceptance of the end of a life well-lived. Mael spoke.
"My first act as king will be to create a holiday in father's honor. Anglia will feast for a week."
"But your father hated feasts," said the queen. But I love having you there by my side, wife.
"I know. That's more for the people. For father, I will plant an oak tree over his grave. His grave on the plains outside the castle."
"But that's where—"
"And they will hereafter be known as the Plains of Peace."
Coluim was overwhelmed. Of course. The tree will live a hundred years, so that it will grow over the memory of where my father fell. When people look to the eastern hills, they will no longer think of the king who was butchered there, but see the tree marking the king who sleeps there. Thank you, my son.
The queen smiled. "That is a beautiful idea, Mael. Your father would love it."
I do. And you. All of you. The room dimmed and receded. As it drifted away, Coluim felt sleep coming over him. It enfolded him like a blanket, and he rested. Soon, he heard Eadwulf's voice. "Sire? Can you hear me?" A gentle nudge at his elbow. Coluim stirred.
"Yes. More importantly, can you hear me? How old am I?"
"I can, sire, and you are 32 today."
"Yes I am." Coluim looked around at the familiar surroundings of Eadwulf's chamber. The candles were lower, but nothing else had changed. "Is it finished?"
"I believe so, sire. It has been six hours, though you slept for the last hour. I trust it was...satisfactory? Did you find your perspective?"
"Time will tell. I saw the most terrible and wonderful things." Coluim shot out of his seat. "The queen! Where is my queen? Where is my prince?"
"I believe you will find them in your chamber, sire, getting ready. As should you."
"Of course! The feast! Eadwulf..." Coluim put his hands on the old mage's shoulders. "Eadwulf, thank you. For what you did. For what you do."
"It is my duty and pleasure, sire."
Coluim rushed out of the room. Eadwulf watched with a knowing smile as his king hurried away.
The keep was empty, since everyone was gathered in the banquet hall for the feast. Coluim sped through the passages and burst into his quarters. The queen was putting the finishing touches on young Mael's outfit. "Coluim! We were going to surprise you! Where have you been?"
"Very near and very far, my lady. I missed you." The queen looked puzzled. She was more puzzled after Coluim's brief but passionate kiss. "And you, Mael? How has your day been?"
"Good, father. I can't wait for you to see what I made for your birthday!"
"Neither can I, son." Coluim embraced his wife and his son, and thought of his father. He remembered his smiling face.