Tory had the radio volume cranked to maximum as she, Cara, Kahlan and Terra flew down the empty back roads of 106, the long straight stretch from Bridgewater to Plymouth. Country 102.5 blared through the speakers appropriately as they zipped through with nothing but fields, bogs and conservation land on either side of the road. Kahlan threw her head back and belted out:
“And I can feel
That muddy water running through my veins
And I can hear that lullaby of a midnight train
It sings to me and it sounds familiar”
She slapped her hand to the rhythm against the front of the dashboard of Tory’s little aqua blue Jeep Wrangler. Terra and Cara sat stretched out in the back seat, feet bare and propped up on the center console as they bobbed their heads in time to the radio.
“I feel no shame
I'm proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks
One thing I know
No matter where I go
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks!”
As the Wrangler tore past Bogs Hollow, a winding few hundred yards of road that went straight through active cranberry bogs, Terra suddenly snapped up. Tory caught sight of her twin in the mirror; hair bristled like a dog who’d just heard the word ‘squirrel’. Sure enough, down in the center of Bogs Hollow was a small flock of giant wild turkeys, pecking away at the ground. Sweet as she was, Terra hated turkeys. The background to Terra’s unreasonable hatred stemmed back to when she was seven; something about a first grade field trip to a farm and an unpleasant encounter with the Thanksgiving delicacy.
Tory slowed the car down just a bit as they passed; just enough so that Terra could lean out of the bare side of the Wrangler and gobble tauntingly at the birds. The four girls broke in to hysterical laughter. “Alright Terra that’s enough taunting the birds!” Tory called back.
“How on Earth is your car so dirty?” Kahlan asked. “The Wrangler’s like…eighty percent covered in mud. We live in the city.”
Kahlan was right: Tory’s Jeep was more mud then paint. It was deep in the grooves of her tires, plastered in a thick light brown coat across the doors.
Shrugging, Tory answered, “What can I say? Muddy cars are a turn-on.” She drummed her hands furiously against the steering wheel and pointed at each of the other girls in turn as the final lines of the song rolled out;
“You get a line, I'll get a pole
We'll go fishing in the crawfish hole
Five-card poker on a Saturday night
Church on Sunday morning!”
Kahlan pushed her sunglasses back up her nose with her finger and watched as the landscape sped past them. It always amazed her how in only forty-five minutes the roads when from being surrounded by concrete, skyscrapers in billboards to nothing. Nothing and trees.
The Helsingr family lived tucked off the main road in an old classic white Tudor style house with an enormous emerald green front lawn. The driveway itself was nearly a quarter mile in length and twisted uphill, lined every few dozen yards with a pair of black iron cast lanterns. As Tory parked her Wrangler near the garage besides Celeste’s bright red Escort they girls were greeted by the three youngest members of the house, running screaming through the active sprinkler heads and naked from the chest upwards.
“Hey!” The middle boy, Kyle skidded to a stop in the sopping wet grass and waved. “Cele is in the back! Want me to go get her?”
“Nah, it’s okay hun, we’ll find her.” Kahlan rubbed his soaking wet mop of dark red hair affectionately.
At seven years old Kyle was a gangly boy, looking more and more like Celeste with each passing year with his crimson red hair and bright grey eyes. The other two looked more like their elder sister Anna with honey toned limbs and thick golden hair. Wanting to return to his game Kyle shrugged. “Okay. Her iPod is loud though.” He instructed before chasing after his brothers.
In the backyard Celeste was stretched out on a plastic lawn chair wearing nothing but a small black bikini, her eyes shaded by a pair of sunglasses. As they approached Kahlan could see the white trail of wire snaked up to her ears from her headphones. Days this warm were rare for March, and the Knight’s offender was taking full advantage.
Tory cupped her hands over her mouth and bellowed. “HELSINGR!”
Flinching, Celeste’s head snapped upwards. “Hey guys! Jeez, you brought half the team with you.” She wrapped a towel around herself and nodded towards the sliding glass door that had been left slightly ajar. “C’mon in.”
Celeste Helsingr was the only non-Barrows member of the Knights. Any bit of Gaelic blood in her was probably as authentic as Lucky Charms. She was also the only member with red hair, so dark that it made even Aislin’s look bright in comparison. That was T.D.’s ruling when it came to recruitment: she fully believed in the theory that red heads had less of a pain tolerance, and that wouldn’t stand for a Valhalla Knight who couldn’t play through hits. Celeste however, had been the exception due to the raw power of her slap shot, that had over time speed molded to make her one of the top scorers on the team.
“So I tried to bake you three a cake but…” Celeste nodded towards a deflated mass of yellow cake and blue frosting waiting to be discarded by the sink, hardly recognizable as anything close to food. “Obviously I inherited my mother’s baking skills.”
“You’d think she’d learn by now.” Celeste’s older sister Anna passed through and wrinkled her nose in mock disgust. “You tried.” She said and ran her finger through the top layer of frosting. “I mean, you didn’t totally screw up; the frosting is good.” She flashed her sister an encouraging smile.
Unable to resist, Cara and Tory joined Anna and soon Celeste’s baked monstrosity was stripped completely of its blue covering, leaving only the warped pieces of yellow cake remaining on the plate. Kahlan took a seat on one of the high black barstools surrounding the granite island in the center of the kitchen. The central air conditioning hummed quietly as it traveled beneath the wooden floorboards and white plaster walls. No doubt somewhere upstairs in his office, or in the refinished basement library Celeste’s father was somewhere reading, his pipe clenched in his back molars, (though in all their years of being friends Kahlan had never actually seen Solomon Helsingr smoke) and enjoying a few stolen minutes of peace and quiet.
“Where’s your Mum?” Terra asked, taking a seat beside her cousin.
“Grocery shopping, as per usual.” Anna said sourly. “Those boys eat everything in sight.”
Often Kahlan suspected that Anna didn’t have a single maternal bone in her body. She didn’t seem to find anything smaller than herself be it human or animal endearing in the least, unlike Celeste who sincerely adored her little brothers.
Terra felt something warm and soft brushing against her bare calves. “Marcia.” She acknowledged and bent down to rub the cat between her ears. Celeste’s rust colored tabby meowed in appreciation before pouncing up on to Terra’s lap. Giggling, Terra stroked her fingers through the cat’s long fur. “Yes, nice to see you too.”
“How’s the hand feeling?” Celeste asked Tory while passing her a bag of pretzels. “Do you think you’ll be able to play tomorrow?”
Tory flexed her hand a bit and grimaced. “It’s still sore, but I’ll be in net don’t you worry.”
“Just be grateful we aren’t playing the Rams.” Kahlan cautioned. “Marissa Blackwater has it out for you now too after the stunt you pulled today.”
Celeste’s grey eyes instantly lit up. Her lips curled back as she rested her elbows on the countertop and leaned forward. “What happened?”
Kahlan quickly filled her in, leaving out the detail where she had momentarily been convinced that Marissa Blackwater had been about to pull a weapon on her cousin. “In retrospect it could have gone much worse.” Kahlan said as she drummed her fingers against her knee. Her shoulder cracked painfully, a constant reminder. “We got lucky.”
“Please, you ask as if they had anyone of use.” Tory said exasperated. “We had half the Knights, all three captains. No one over that line was going to touch us.”
“You still shouldn’t be getting involved.” Terra said quietly. “You run almost solely on anger when it comes to the Blackwater family.”
Cara and Tory scowled but Celeste looked at Terra curiously. “Why do you all hate one another?”
Terra took a deep breath and looked at Kahlan who gave a slight nod. “The Blackwater clan is originally from County Fermanagh which is in Northern Ireland.” She began. “We O’Rourke are from County Cavan, which is right on the cusp between the Republic and the North. If you know anything about Irish history, you’ll know that tensions have been strained between the two countries. According to family legend there was some sort of dispute between the clans that resulted in one of ours being gunned down by one of theirs.” Her strawberry blond eyebrows momentarily arched. “Though I’m sure it’s told the opposite way to Blackwater children. Once that happened, family allies flocked to each side. Like the McDara,” She nodded to Kahlan. “Or extended family themselves, like the Carey family. And when you mix honor, family and hatred with a handful of hot headed Irishmen you’ll get a blood feud that endures almost a century, one that extends on to American soil.” Terra shook her head.
“In short, it’s an old war that keeps thriving because some people,” She cast a chastising glance at Tory and Cara. “Won’t let it die. The families all immigrated to make a new life for themselves, unfortunately clusters of each family settled in the same city, and eventually the same neighborhood, too unwilling to completely shed their heritage. Even at the price of living so close to their rivals.”
"So...did your parents ever....you know..." Celeste's voice lowered. "Meet Whitey Bulger?"
Terra nearly choked. "No!" She exclaimed, horrified.
"Unfortunately." Tory muttered, disappointment evident in her voice.
"Our conflict isn't mob related." Kahlan began. "Though I'm sure that there are plenty McDara, O'Rourke and Blackwater somewhere in the ranks of the Irish Mafia, our feud thankfully doesn't stem that deep. Though admittedly nowadays it seems to more and more." Kahlan ran her fingers through her lacquer black hair and sighed. “Back then, the families could make excuses. Northern Ireland and the Republic: national pride and whatnot. My maternal and paternal roots both stem from Cavan: my mum and dad were born there but neither are very touched by the conflict.” She stopped fiddling with her hair and folded her fingers together on her lap. “They want us to stay out of it too. But like Terra says, both sides have their soldiers.” She thought of her brother Kieran who though elusive Kahlan knew was one such person. Tory was different; she was angry, and used the Blackwaters as an excusable outlet.
The mood in the room had grown suddenly somber, edging on the verge of becoming grim until the youngest of the three boys burst through the backdoor dripping wet and now, fully naked.
“Jonathon!” Celeste screeched, hastily tearing off her own towel as she tried to catch the scampering toddler. “Stop! No! PUT YOUR CLOTHES BACK ON!” Eventually she caught him by his slippery arm and hastily swaddled his lower half. “Be back in a second.” She muttered.
Celeste tucked her little brother under her arm and marched him back upstairs to his room to find him a new set of clothes while the rest of the kitchen had erupted in to hysterical laughter. The little kids she’d grown up around in the Barrows had never been so entertaining.
Footsteps sounded on the staircase, much heavier than if they had been Celeste’s. Mr. Helsingr slowly made his way downstairs, an amused smiled on his lips as he kept casting expectant glances back over his shoulder. “Hello girls.” He greeted. “Hope none of you are scarred for life.”
“Don’t worry Mr. H, I think we’ll survive.” Kahlan said, trying to stop herself from snorting with laughter.
“I’m glad.” Celeste’s father playfully clucked Kahlan beneath her chin. “And I’m glad to see you three are not belligerent so early in the day.” His eyes shimmered fondly. “Waiting for tonight I take it?”
Even Terra gad to grin wickedly at the thought.