The oxcart ride was so rough that Alynn would have been less sore if she’d have walked. Nevertheless, she was grateful for the chance to rest. She slid off the cart and stretched her aching joints, and even Tarin made a face as he jumped down.
“Lynder, I’m hungry,” he said. “Do we have any more cheese?”
“I’ll check,” Alynn promised, even though she knew she wouldn’t find anything. “What about some watercress?”
“But I want cheese!”
Alynn checked the horse’s saddlebags one last time, and once again found nothing. “We don’t have any,” Alynn said. “We’ll get more. Don’t worry, Tarin.”
“It’s nigh time for tea,” Colum said. “Come eat with us, will you, Mr. Rowan?”
“I hate to intrude,” Rowan replied, which was his way of declining charity.
“Whisht, we love the company,” Colum said. “Run to Miss Kiva, lassie, and tell her we’ll be havin’ friends over!”
“I will, sir,” Alynn nodded. She ran into the spinnery, then into the room behind it that was so much like her home in Limerick, and looked around.
Colum O’Shaughnessy’s house was a perfect home. There was a pot bubbling over the fireplace, and a cat sleeping on the bed, and two girls playing with dolls on the floor. Everything was warm and cozy. Mrs. O’Shaughnessy was slicing bread at the table.
Nervously, Alynn rapped on the doorframe.
Mrs. O’Shaughnessy looked up. “Come in, child,” she said pleasantly. “Is it cardin’ spinnin’ you need from us?”
“I’m Alynn McNeil, and Mr. Colum said my father, my brother, and I could eat with ye tonight,” Alynn replied. “What can I do to help, Miss Kiva?”
“Stir the stew, if you’ve a mind to. Fiona, put the baby in her cradle and come help.”
Alynn stirred the stew as she was instructed, then looked beside her. A girl about her age, brown-haired and blue-eyed, was staring at her.
“How are you gettin’ on?” the girl asked. “I’m Fiona.”
“Set the table,” Kiva instructed. Fiona bounced off, and Alynn looked back at the stew. She’d have to be careful around Fiona. She’d learned long ago that girls her age were generally friendly, and the more friendly they were, the harder they were to leave. Usually, though, they’d leave her alone if she ignored them.
“You said yer name was Alynn, didn’t you? Where are you from? Are you stayin’ here?” Fiona babbled. She danced around the table, her skirt swirling, as she placed five bowls on the table. “Mum, we don’t have enough bowls.”
“Share one with Seamus, then,” Kiva said.
“Alright.” Fiona smiled at Alynn. One of her top front teeth was missing, and Alynn caught herself smiling back at her. She quickly checked herself and stared back at the stew.
“It smells good, doesn’t it?” Fiona asked. “That’s because Mum put lots of meat in it. It’s fierce good. I’ve not met a person yet who doesn’t like Mum’s stew.”
Tarin flew through the door. “Lynder, Mr. Colum says that he’s ready to eat,” he said. He looked at the stew, then the bread and cheese on the table, and grinned at Kiva. “You make good food! Can I have some cheese?”
“Tarin, whisht,” Alynn snapped. “I’m sorry, Miss Kiva. That’s my brother, Tarin. He should know his manners by now.” She glared at Tarin, but he smiled sweetly and hugged her legs.
“You shouldn’t be mad that I’m hungry,” he said.
“Oh, stop,” Alynn scolded, smiling. She filled a bowl with stew. “Sit at the table, will you?”
“I will.” Tarin climbed into a chair just as Rowan and Colum came in. Alynn filled the rest of the bowls with soup and was grateful to sit down with her own bowl. She’d only half-filled it, in case Rowan or Colum wanted extra.
“You’ve got to be hungrier than that, child,” Kiva said as she eyed Alynn’s bowl, and she gave her an extra ladle of soup.
Colum prayed for the food, and the adults all began talking about Rowan and where he was from and the weather there and the price of rent and livestock at market. Alynn tried to listen.
“I don’t get grown-ups,” Fiona said. “They talk about boring things. Don’t you think that?”
Alynn savored her bite of stew. She nodded.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
“I talk,” Alynn insisted with her mouth full. She swallowed before she continued. “I just don’t get the chance to do it much.”
“I’m always at home workin’. I can’t talk to Tarin, because he’s too little.”
“You don’t have any sisters?” Fiona asked.
“That’s a fright. I’m sorry.” Fiona gave a sympathetic smile, but then her face brightened. “I can be yer sister. Will you like that?”
Every part of Alynn wanted to say no, that she’d only leave again, and she’d hurt them both. But Fiona’s shining eyes and hopeful smile changed Alynn’s “I won’t” to a quiet “I think that’s grand.”
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.