Ch. I: A Moment

I've been in the mood for a hmm...well, not a romance as in the trashy little books my mother reads, but more of a love story- I would simply go to my bookshelf and read one instead of writing one but since I disapprove of romances, there are only two in my house: one I tried to sell, and one that isn't mine.

          "What are you thinkin' about?"

          "I'm thinking about what I would do if I were the queen."

          "Ah."

          He didn't ask why.  He never had to ask why.  He always knew.

          But that didn't stop my silly tests.  "Do you know why?"

          "'Cause of that boy you saw...with the puppy."  He was always right.

          We both sat there on the dock, our feet dangling in the water as we gazed out to sea, trying to not be depressed.

          "I'm sorry I wasn' there," he whispered.  I looked over at him and saw anger on his face.

          "It's not your fault," I protested.  "I'm just...argh!"  I stood, shaking out my skirts, then turned to run back to the house.  I heard his footsteps padding quickly on the grass as he easily caught up with me.

          "It's not your fault, Saoirse," Ardan chided.  "The great God made you little and that's how you'll stay.  Do yourself a favour, little fire- let me handle the problem instead of your Da."

          I leapt over a rabbit hole and slowed down.  "Perhaps my Da...yes, you are who I'll tell next time.  So something might get done?"

          "For hurtin' an animal, I'll have to break his nose.  For bruisin' you, I'll have to break his jaw."

          "It was just my arm, though," I said with a frown.  "I don't know if I could let you do that."

          We continued on up the rolling green hills to my father's mansion in silence.  I felt him walking beside me as clear as I felt the gentle grass grazing my ankles and calves as we made our way, but I couldn't look at him.  I was having one of my moments.

          I didn't know how to describe them- one minute we would be sitting together like old friends, having a good talk about the weather or maybe teasing the cats with little bells on strings, and the next minute I would become very aware of the curve of his lips, the way his green eyes seemed bluer in the sunlight, the way his curly black hair shined, how tall and strong he was...

          Sometimes I saw him as a really good friend.  Sometimes I saw him as a man.

          "You're doin' it again," he said with a frown colouring his tone.

          This was one thing, thankfully, he could never seem to read off me.  I carefully avoided looking at him as I answered.

          "Doing what?" I asked innocently.

          "You've gone all quiet and you're not lookin' at me."

          I tried to reign myself in so I could roll my eyes without the stain of a blush on my face.  It was a belated response.

          "I'm just thinking, boy, leave me be," I said, wrinkling my nose to keep from smiling.

          He grumbled and strode ahead of me, his long legs taking him away fast.  I lifted my skirts and ran a little after him.  It was silly, and I knew he wasn't mad, but the strangest, smallest things he did seemed to hurt, like walking away from me.

          I batted him on the shoulder, my moment finally passing.  "You can't escape me that easily," I teased.  "We're going to miss lunch!"  I started to run ahead of him, but he grasped my hand and pulled ahead, and we were flying through the grass.

          When we finally made it to the house, I collapsed onto the heap of bagged flour the kitchen staff was in the middle of bringing into the kitchen.  Ardon laughed at the state of me as he leaned against the side of the mansion, breathing only a little bit hard.

          "You...laugh!" I panted angrily.  "But...you...have...longer legs...than me!"

          One of the boys who was helping with the flour was standing back awkwardly.  "Miss, can I help you?" he asked.  He couldn't have been more than ten.

          Ardon kept laughing as he held out his hand to help me up.  "Come on, grandmother, the lad needs to work if he's goin' to eat."

          I glared at him as I took his hand, trying not to breathe so much.  I felt a little dizzy as he pulled me up.  He pulled too hard for my present state and I stumbled into him.  It triggered another moment for me, but he was oblivious.  He patted my shoulder gently.  "Just breathe, Saoirse," he chuckled.  "We'll run everyday so it's not such trouble for you."

          I'd take him up on the offer, if this is what happened at the end of every run.  I stumbled back, embarrassed and apologizing, and walked into the kitchen.

          "You're so flushed, miss!" Cook said, glancing at Ardon disapprovingly.  She always thought we were up to something.  "Some water?  Perhaps a knife?"

          "Just two cups of water, Cookie," I said with dignity.  She scowled at him, but nodded at a maid who left and came back with what I'd asked for.  I drank all mine in one quick draught and handed it back to the girl.  Ardon wasn't even trying to hide his smile as he finished and handed his cup back as well.

          "I think the lady's ready for a second round," he smirked.  I stepped on his foot but accepted the second drink of water when it came.

          "You'll stay for lunch?" I asked, a little grudgingly. 

          "Will you be breathing by then?"  I knew he was joking since I was recovered now, but my personal maid, Ardon's twin sister, and my very good friend, Brannagh, was passing by.  She came over when I winked at her and caught me as I pretended to faint.

          "What did you do to poor Saoirse, now?" she scolded her brother.

          He wasn't fooled for a second.  He tweaked my nose and started walking away.  "If you two would like to go on a picnic for lunch- if the master will let you- then I shall be by the dock."

          I sighed and came out of my bad faint.  "Your brother is absolutely maddening," I informed her.  She just laughed as she pushed me to my feet.  "Cookie, I'm going to ask Da for permission, but will you assemble a picnic basket for three?"

          She nodded.  "Yes, of course, miss, I'll get Cassidy right on it."

          I thanked her and left the kitchen with Brannagh to find my father.  I checked his office first, but there was no one behind the paper strewn desk or the comfortable chair in the corner by the bookcase.  The library was empty as well, so we went cautiously to the sitting room, hoping in vain that he wasn't with my mother.

          "Da?  Mam?" I began, trying not to wince.  They looked up at me from their chess game and waited.  "May I eat lunch at the dock?"

          Mam's eyes narrowed and she cut off my father's smiling 'of course.'  "Who would you be going with?"

          "I'd be going with Brannagh," I said, avoiding her eyes.

          "And Brannagh's brother, he wouldn't be going with you, now?" she continued, shrewd as ever.

          I let a slight sigh escape me and tried to look her in those icy blue eyes.  "No, Mam, he's not going with us."  I tried not to emphasize 'going' too much...because that was all the truth, I told myself.

          Fortunately, it was my father's turn.  "Check," he said with a smirk.  My mother couldn't help it, she turned back to the game with a frown.  "Alright, then, go- but you'll be eating supper with the family."

          "Of course, Mother, thank you," I said, trying not flee the room laughing.  Brannagh grabbed my hand and towed me out.

          Once the doors were shut we let our pent up giggles escape and ran to the kitchen to acquire our lunch basket.

          "Your mother is terrifying!" she exclaimed as we sprung over the little brook that wound its way through the hills.  Like her brother, Brannagh was taller than me, so she kindly took the downhill run at my pace.  She also had his green eyes and curly black hair, though she let her hair grow as long as mine instead of keeping it clipped above the ears like him.  She also had a penchant for guessing my mind, as well as her twin's.  "He made you run all the way up these ghastly hills, didn't he?" she asked as we neared the docks and slowed down.

          "How did you know?" I asked with a frown.  "I wasn't still panting!"

          She laughed merrily and said, "It was either that or he kissed you- I've never seen you so flushed!"

          My jaw dropped slightly and so did my hand from the basket we carried.  "Well!"  I fled the rest of the way without her and only stopped when I felt the sturdy wood beneath my feet.  Ardon wasn't here yet, so I walked to the edge and sat, stripping off my shoes and stockings.  Brannagh came and sat by me, settling the picnic basket behind us so she could strip off her shoes and stockings as well.  We dangled our feet in the cool clear waters and looked out over the sea.

          "The fishing boat is gone," Brannagh noticed idly.  "Maybe he went out in it?"

          I raised my eyebrows.  "He's not allowed," I said.  "He'll- oh!"

          We saw the little boat coming into view from around the corner of the island and my jaw dropped once again.  It was clearly Ardon and he waved at us before he started rowing again.

          "Oh dear," I whispered.  "What if Aonghus finds out!  He'll tell Mam or break your brother's nose-"

          "He does this all the time and he's never gotten caught," she cut me off.  She laughed when I gaped at her.  "I think he wants to show you something.  I've been there a few times- it's lovely.  I think you'll like it."

          I just sat there quietly shaking my head until he made it to the dock.  "You are a fool if there ever was one," I said mournfully as he held out a hand to his sister.

          He just laughed as he took the basket from her and helped her down.  "Lighten up, little fire, 'afore the weight makes you shorter."

          I scowled as I took his hand.  Of course I was going, breaking rules, stealing a boat...if it was something he was doing, I just couldn't say no.  It's why Cook always looked at us with suspicion.

          I settled into the boat and pulled the spare pair of oars off the floor to help him row.  Brannagh frowned.  "I can do that, miss," she said, slipping into her station.  "You shouldn't hurt your hands."

          "Nonsense," I said, dipping the paddles into the water in time with Ardon's.  "I do this every Sunday with Da when we go fishing."

          She continued frowning but dropped it.  I could tell Ardon was smiling when he brought up his protest.  "No one's doubting your ability Saoirse," he said.  "But Brannagh knows where we going."

           I handed the oars to his sister and turned to face him, my arms crossed in defeat.

          "I hope this is worth a broken nose," I muttered, but he just laughed as we glided through the waters.

The End

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