Aislinn hurried back towards her father’s study, her woollen skirts whispering furiously with each hasty step. Brion trailed behind her, still slightly dazed about their father’s summon. His hand still gripped the hilt of his practice sword, the heavy blade dragging on the ground behind him. As they rounded the corner, Aislinn called out loudly to their other three brothers, and Cathair, Colum and Cormack grudgingly slid down from their saddles to come to her side.
“Good gracious Aislinn! Screaming like that, didn’t Sorcha ever tell you that it’s very unladylike?” Colum teased, “I thought the sky was going to fall down!”
He dodged as Aislinn swatted him, and came up grinning at her from behind his twin’s shoulder.
“Stop your fooling around Colum,” Cathair said quietly, “What’s wrong Aislinn?”
“Father told me to come get you,” she said, “All of you. Finbar’s been sent to get Faolan and Padriac from the little paddock.”
“All of us?” Brion asked, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise.
“But why?” asked Cormack at the same time.
“I don’t know,” she told them, “He said it was urgent, and that we must make haste to his study.”
Seeing the quizzical curves of her brothers’ brows, Aislinn grabbed Brion’s hand and bodily dragged him towards the study, counting on the others to follow. The three younger boys were already waiting at the heavy oak door, their faces as confused as their older siblings’.
“We wanted to wait for all of you,” said Padriac as a mean to explain why they were standing like serving boys in front of their father’s study.
“Well, we’re all here now,” Aislinn said, “Shall we go in?”
Cathair knocked on the wooden door, answering Aislinn’s question. “Pa? It’s us.”
“Come in children,” said the deep voice of the chieftain after a brief silence.
Pushing the heavy door open, the seven sons and lone daughter of the chieftain stepped in to face their father. In turns, they each bowed or curtseyed to him and took their spots on the other side of their father’s great desk.
“Why did you summon us, Pa?” asked Faolan tentatively as the chieftain slowly swept his gaze over the faces of his children.
“Children,” the chieftain began, “There’s been some grave news indeed. No, no one died so don’t look so upset Aislinn. My messenger had just returned from Lyonesse, beaten and bruised. He said that the forests around Somerset and Lyonesse are rife with attackers sent by Lord Andred of Lochbridge.”
“Is Andred not the rogue knight?” asked Brion.
“He was,” answered the chieftain, “He had since conquered the land of Lochbridge and crowned himself chieftain there. As I was saying, our messenger also carried words from Lord Anluan of Lyonesse himself, and he implored me to join forces and drive these minions of Lochbridge away for good.”
“So war with Lochbridge?” asked Colum, his mischievous eyes glinting with the possibility of fighting alongside their father.
“I have yet to send my reply, but this week alone there have been many cases of robberies and attacks on our people, and I am certain that this is due to the hands of this rogue Andred of Lochbridge,” the chieftain said, then added after a long silence, “So yes, Colum. It looks like there will be war with Lochbridge.”
“When are we leaving?” asked Cormack and Colum together.
“I need to get my armour and sword ready,” said Brion at the same time.
“Oh the first glorious battle,” Cathair said.
“Can’t we come too, Pa?” pleaded the younger boys.
Aislinn said nothing. She knew that it was the fate of women to be left behind in these things.
“You’re all staying,” said the strong voice of their father, dashing away the boys’ glorious dreams of war, “I will be leaving two weeks from now, once our soldiers have been properly armoured and their spirits readied for this draining war.”
“Father!” protested Brion, “I’m twenty three, and have been to more battles than I have fingers! Why not this one?”
“Yes, why not, Pa?” the twins, Cormack and Colum, asked.
“I’m nearly eighteen, you can’t deny me my first battle!” complained Cathair, looking less than calm and collected for the first time in months.
“You don’t understand, there’s too much at risk this time for me to let you come,” the chieftain explained, “I’m sorry boys. But you’ll be in charge at Somerset for the duration of the war, with Brion taking the chieftain position. That’s what I need to talk to you for. Brion, look after your brothers and sister. Cormack, Colum and Cathair, promise me to help him. Aislinn, you get the position of mistress here. And my three little warriors, be good and listen to brothers and sister.”
“But Pa,” Brion tried again, “I’m good with a sword and even better on a horse. Can’t I ...”
“No means no, Brion,” the chieftain said sternly, “Now, move along and get ready for tonight’s supper. The Lord and Lady Stonebrook are visiting.”
Muttering in annoyed tones, the chieftain’s sons filed out of their father’s study. Aislinn was about to slip through the oaken door when her father called her back.
“I’m sorry Aislinn,” he said, his green eyes dark with emotions.
“Oh Pa, there’s nothing to be sorry about,” she said, patting her father’s arm to comfort him.
“Seems like you’ll be the mother all over again,” he said, his strong shoulders relaxing under Aislinn’s touch, “And the only parent too. I’m never around enough to be a real father to you all.”
Unsure of what to do, Aislinn continued to pat the chieftain’s arm and tried to smile at him. She was at a complete lost, for her father had never slipped the mask of chieftain like this before. Slowly she found her voice.
“Pa, you’re a wonderful father,” she said, half lying, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of those silly boys.”
He nodded and slid his other hand up to his arm to grasp hers. Shocked at this intimate act, Aislinn froze as her father gave her small hand a squeeze and gently pushed her towards the door. She looked at him once more from outside the study, mustering up a smile for him.
“Thank you Aislinn,” he said, and the great oak door swung shut.