798 AD, Ruir, Kingdom of Galway, Declan’s House
“Good morning to you.” Brighid said. Saoirse stretched and rubbed her eyes until the thought of opening became less of a debate and as easy as breathing.
The day was bright, not even the curtains could keep the sun from streaming into the small cottage on the hillside. It was a cottage identical to the one Saoirse grew up in on the other side the hill, the lower part that tumbled into rocks by the sea. Saoirse’s family came from a long line of fisherman.
The sea was their calling but it did not call her. Instead, she spent many days here, in the stone and wood cottage that stood up, away from the sea, in the quiet of a hillside. She liked to be where her vantage point was high so she could understand her landscape of existence.
“When did you get here?” Saoirse asked.
“After training was done around midnight. I heard about your spectacle in the courtyard.” Brighid said. “Everyone did.”
Saoirse swallowed with a gulp. “Did you hear any more?”
“Nope.” Brighid said. “Though I was surprised to find you here, in my brother’s bed.”
“You know it is not like that with Declan and me. I needed somewhere safe, I knew I would be here. Brighid, he’s the brother I wish I had, not the guy I want.” Saoirse said.
“Does the guy you want know you are interested?” Brighid asked.
Saoirse rolled her eyes and got out of bed. “If you want me to go, just say it.”
“I want to know why you are here.” Brighid said.
“You already know why, I needed to see Declan. But since Declan has disappeared I guess I will see him later.” Saoirse said and began to put on her shoes.
“Just stop with that, Saoirse,” Brighid said and handed her a cup of tea. “Declan is outside cutting turf. Help me make something to eat.”
“I thought you lived at the fortress now.” Saoirse said. “I didn’t think I would have to see you.”
“I don’t. Declan and I, we stick together. Always have, always will. We don’t forget who we are just because we step foot in a fortress and speak to the Chieftain.” Brighid lashed with condescension. Saoirse smacked her hand on the table in the center of the cottage. Her tea toppled over the walls of the cup holding it.
“I didn’t change. I was under extreme pressure. The Chieftainess had people watching my every move. I tried to visit but if I did, she punished me. Accuse me of stealing. Of sharing secrets with the lower clan. Of cheating on Riagan. The works.” Saoirse said. “The worst thing she accused me of was sleeping with the Chieftain to get this marriage. She said if I step out of line again she would hold a Brehon Court in my honor and, if they found me guilty, she would cut my ear off. After that I cut all ties to the world.”
“Yeah, okay.” Brighid scoffed. Saoirse frowned.
“You think I am lying?” Saoirse asked. Brighid shrugged and brought the pan from the fire. She placed a piece of green marble on the table set the pan on top of that. Porridge and eggs.
“I could see you doing that to get ahead of us all. You are ambitious—” Brighid said.
“Are you serious?” Saoirse exclaimed. “You are holding a grudge and being ridiculous. I did not do that.”
“You love Seamus, you marred Riagan, why not sleep with Conn? You could complete your collection of O’Connors.” Brighid scorned.
Saoirse picked up her cup and threw it against the wall, far to the right of Brighid. “Grow up, Saoirse.”
“No, you grow up, Brighid. How narrow is your thinking? How childish are to believe the only ambition I could have would be rooted in sex? You cheapen my affection for Seamus. You disrespect any value I have by boiling this down to a game. You should be in my place, Brighid. You would enjoy Tearlag’s games, you blithering hag. I’m done.” Saoirse said.
“Of course you are. That’s your move. ‘Life’s too hard. I’m done. Tearlag did this so I’m done. Tearlag tells me to leave my family, I’m done.’ Your mother cries her eyes out everyday—” Brighid replied.
“Is that what she tells you, Brighid? And you believe her? You know my mother doesn’t care. Maighread has never cared about anything other than success. She may be crying, but they are tears of joy that I am settled in a prominent position.” Saoirse said.
“Were.” Brighid said. “You were but you ditched it. Like everything else.” Saoirse sneered and dipped her hand into the porridge and smeared it all over Brighid’s face. Brighid looked in disbelief as porridge coated her face.
“You wretch!” Brighid screamed. “You stupid little snake. I cook for you and you do this?!” Saoirse smirked. Brighid scooped up the porridge and flung it at Saoirse, with half landing on her body. The other half landed on the face of Declan, who had just walked through the door.
“I see you guys are back to normal.” Declan said with deadpan emotion. He wiped the porridge off his face. “Saoirse, Seamus is here to see you.”
“Tell him to leave.” Saoirse said. “I’m not going back. He can take his love and his pretend devotion and shove it.” Saoirse said loud enough for Seamus to here.
“It was never pretend, Saoirse. I came here to say I’m sorry.” Seamus said from outside the door and placed a bouquet of evergreen and berry branches on the stoop. They were an unusual bouquet, like her. Seamus sighed as he walked away wondering if she would get the sentiment.
“Can you tell me why you have thrown all of our food on each other’s faces ,and mine as well?” Declan asked. “I feel like I took in two strays.”
“I live here.” Brighid corrected.
“No, you don’t.” Declan pushed his dark brown hair out of his eyes along with the porridge that was stuck to his nose. “You haven’t been here in weeks. You heard your best friend made a fool of herself at the ritual and came to lap up the blood.”
“And you, Saoirse, Seamus has been waiting out there since dawn. You could at least hear him out.” Declan turned on Saoirse.
“He’s a liar. He doesn’t stand up for me.” Saoirse crossed her arms.
“You married his brother all the while you two are infatuated with each other. I think he is going through a hard time too.” Declan said. “Now, I’m going to clean up myself and you two are going to clean this mess up while I go to the market. Make your peace or get out, that goes for you too, Brighid.”
“But you’re my brother, can’t you take my side in this?” Brighid whined.
“You called her a whore. I don’t agree with you. Why you two are fighting in the first place I don’t understand. Saoirse didn’t win some contest and Brighid isn’t living a dream life. We are just here, existing. Isn’t that good enough?” Declan grabbed his coat and slammed the door. The cottage rattled.
“Why does he like you better?” Brighid asked and sat down.
“He doesn’t.” Saoirse said and grabbed a cloth from the kitchen. She dipped it in the water jug and handed it to Brighid. Brighid nodded in gratitude and began to wipe the porridge from her face.
“He always has.” Brighid answered.
“No, you are being paranoid.” Saoirse found a wet cloth for herself and wiped the porridge from her black hair. “And insecure.” Brighid shrugged. “Where do you live if you don’t live here?” Saoirse asked.
“There’s a cottage out by the fortress. I, along with some of the other shieldmaidens, were asked to move there after you left. All the warriors live by the fortress now. It’s part of Tearlag’s new plan. She and her father, Chieftain Cahal, have their sights on a new project and they want us at their disposal.” Brighid answered. “And it’s lonely.”
“How does Declan get to stay out here?” Saoirse asked.
“Special permission from Chieftain Conn.” Brighid answered. “I’m assuming Seamus has something to do with it.” Brighid said. “Maybe he knew you would need a place to run to?”
“Heh, right.” Saoirse said.
“What are you going to do?” Brighid asked.
“I have no idea. I’m a disgrace. I can’t go home. I don’t want to go back to the fortress. I’m in a rut.” Saoirse said.
“You should talk to Seamus.” Brighid said.
“Maybe.” Saoirse answered.
“No. You should. And I’m always here for you and so is Declan. Don’t turn your back on us again.” Brighid answered. “This stuff with the O’Connors, it is not more important than us. They are our Chieftain family, but they serve us. You don’t turn your back on your people, Saoirse. You need people in your life.” Brighid said. Saoirse pondered this in silence. She knew Brighid was right, but how could this be possible if she went back to that house?
“Do you think we could both crash here?” Saoirse asked.
Brighid shrugged. “It’s not up to me.”