Grabbing a handful of ripe berries off the bush, Aislinn dropped the sticky red fruits unceremoniously into her basket and stalked off to the next shrub. It was a fine day for riding; the crisp air of a late summer morning and the cloudless blue sky was too much of a temptation to a born rider like Aislinn. She sighed and toiled on with her berry picking, her hands clenching around the lush berries with perhaps a little more force than needed. Sorcha would not be happy with Aislinn’s basket of squashed berries. They were too bruised to be baked in a pie, let alone preserved for the coming winter. Aislinn wiped her juice-stained hands on her apron, hoisted the heavy basket onto her other arm and began the walk back to Somerset.
Somerset was a large place, a ford set atop a hill overlooking its province. Generations of Fionns have lived there, generations of sons who rode over the great pastures in order to defend the province and generations of daughters standing quietly behind providing support. Inside the ford’s barrier is a sprawling spread of stone buildings, with the exception being the stables. Aislinn loved those wooden stables with their beautiful horses, and the broad grassy area around them. She was walking past those stables now, her eyes lingered longingly on the horses. She was trying not to look towards the riding area where her brothers are. Still, she can’t help being so jealous.
“Aislinn!! Look at me!!” the excited voice of Finbar called to her.
She turned around and looked, despite her promise to herself not to look at her brothers and be jealous. Finbar was riding on her old pony, his pale blond hair flying. He laughed out loud as the pony jumped over a small log, his baby cheeks rosy with exhilaration. Aislinn smiled, her jealousy forgotten. It was hard to be anything but happy in Finbar’s company.
“Look what I can do!” he yelled to her, grinning madly.
Aislinn walked closer to the riding area. Depositing her basket on the ground, she turned to Finbar and smiled. He beamed back at her, backed the pony to the far side of the paddock and started a slow trot towards a crudely set hurdle.
“Surely you can go faster than that?” Aislinn teased.
Finbar spurred the pony into a gallop. Three yards in front of the hurdle, he dug his heels into the pony’s side and leaned forward, preparing for a jump. But the jump never came. Galloping too quickly, the pony had missed the jump and charged straight through the hurdle.
Aislinn ran to her brother. Finbar lay in a crumpled heap a few yards away from the hurdle, his body muddied from the fall. Crouching down next to him, she cradled him in her arms and tried to pick him up. He let out a scream as she touched his right arm.
“His arm’s broken. See, the bone is fractured just below the elbow,’ said a deep, calm voice from behind her.
Aislinn turned around. It took her a few moments to recognise the speaker’s face. Quin Conroy, the alchemist and herbalist. He rarely ever paid a visit to Somerset, but rather preferred to send his apprentice up here to bring the few potions and medicines that the chieftain’s family required. Why was he here today?