Even though Rowan rarely accepted charity, he took up Colum’s offer to spend the night. Perhaps it was because a gentle rain had set in during dinner, or because the woods were too wild for camping in, or because the O’Shaughnessy family was simply too friendly for anyone to decline their offers of hospitality. However this miracle happened, Alynn was glad of it. She awoke the next morning to the smell of Kiva making breakfast.
Alynn pulled her dress on over her undershift and draped her plaid over her shoulder. She pinned it in place with a horseshoe-shaped pin, then tied it at the waist with a rope. Her belt had worn out two houses ago.
“You’re awake early,” Kiva said, stirring the stirabout. “Did you sleep well?”
“I did,” Alynn nodded. She dug through her family’s trunk, careful not to make too much noise, until she found her comb. She worked it through her strawberry-blonde tangles.
Rowan entered through the back door with a bucket of water. He smiled at Alynn. “I can’t thank yer family enough,” he told Kiva softly. “We’ll be leavin’ as soon as Tarin wakes up. I need to hunt for a job.”
“You’ll stay for breakfast,” Kiva said.
Rowan gave a smile that he didn’t mean. “I’d hate to intrude.”
“And I’d hate for the black pudding to go to waste. You’re stayin,’ Mr. Rowan, if there’s anythin’ I can do about it.”
Rowan hesitated, and Alynn smiled. He’d never turn down black pudding.
Tarin sat up, his hair as wild as a rat’s nest attacked by a stoat. “Lynder, where are we?” he asked.
“We’re still at Mr. Colum’s house,” Alynn said. She brushed Tarin’s hair while he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “In Barrygone.”
Tarin looked around. “Something smells funny.”
“It’s black pudding that Miss Kiva’s makin’ for breakfast.”
Tarin made a face, and Alynn gave a sympathetic smile. She wasn’t terribly fond of black pudding, either, but it was a welcome break from stirabout.
Alynn helped put breakfast on the table. Rowan ate quickly, then left to find at least a decent day’s work. Alynn ran her fingers over her rosary necklace and breathed a silent prayer that he would find a job. But she didn’t have time to worry. She helped Kiva wash the dishes, then went with Fiona to weed the garden.
“Do you like gardens?” Fiona asked.
“I don’t mind them, but I prefer spinning. Da’s got a spinnery. Sometimes, he lets me work with him. Wool makes yer hands soft, and it smells good.”
Alynn smiled. Not everyone enjoyed the distinctive barnyard odor of wool, but it reminded Alynn of her grandparent’s house in Limerick. “My Granddad was a shepherd,” she said. “He and Nan always had soft hands.”
“That must be grand. My Nan, she’s got claws like a banshee.” Fiona made a face, and Alynn caught herself giggling.
“Fiona, are you workin’ or talkin’?” Kiva demanded. She’d been working in the patch of dye plants. “It’s nigh to noon. What have ye finished?”
“The watercress, parsnips, and onions, and we’re halfway through the garlic,” Fiona announced.
“Grand job,” Kiva said. “Alynn, where’s yer brother?”
Alynn’s heart skipped a beat as she stood and scanned the yard. “Tarin!” she shouted. She saw nothing, she heard nothing, and fear started mounting within her. “Tarin, where are you?”
“Lynder!” cried a faint voice. Alynn spun around to see Tarin, followed closely by an unusually cheerful Rowan. Alynn gasped.
“You found a job?” she asked.
“I did!” Rowan said, taking Alynn into his arms as she ran to hug him. “And I found a house, not too far from here.”
“Where are you workin’?” Kiva asked.
“Harald Otarrson, the horse breeder. We’ll be livin’ on his croft.”
Kiva nodded. “I wish you luck.”
Rowan kept talking—probably thanking Kiva for the hospitality—but Alynn tuned out. Harald Otarrson was a Norse name, Norse just like the man who had kidnapped her mother. Part of Alynn was frightened, and part of her was livid. She squeezed Tarin’s hand until he squirmed, gave her thanks to Kiva, and clung to Rowan’s hand as they left for their new home.
The croft itself was beautiful. Horses grazed on grass greener than any dye, and stone walls kept them inside. But the hovel Rowan led them to was falling down.
The door hung precariously from one hinge as Rowan opened it. It reeked, as if dung had been used instead of mortar between the stones. The wattle-and-daub roof was still dripping from last night’s rain, and part of the wall looked as if a tree had fallen on it. Leaves and trash were strewn across the straw floor.
Alynn took a deep breath and blinked. Perhaps, if everything was cleaned and the bed was made up, and the roof was repaired, it would look more like a home.
“Tarin, fetch some firewood,” she said. “I’ll see if I can’t borrow a broom.”
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.