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Chapter 3
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Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

 

Chapter 3: Ayrien's Dance

"Let me see, let me see!" The dancers were pushing each other, trying to get a short peep on the audience from behind the curtain. Ayrien was the only one out of the bunch of exited girls, giggling and jumping around…
After taking proud for not being nervous about the dance the whole time, the fear had finally invaded her heart, almost paralyzing her. Two sentences were running over and over again in her thoughts, mixing, frightening her and banishing any trace of peace. "If she wasn't the daughter of the village's head, she would never have been chosen to lead the dance!" "I know my little fairy will not disappoint her old father, ah?" "Would never have been chosen…" "won't disappoint her old father" "never… never… never" "disappoint her old father, ah?" Aryrien's head, echoing with these words, became a complete mess. What if that was right, and she IS going to disappoint her father?!

Saoirse was already out there, presenting them to the very special guests of the night, and Ayrien was as far as one can be from concentrating.
The slow drumbeats signing the start of their dance started, forcing a silence on the expecting audience. Ayrien was pushed forward by the other dancers. She started walking automatically, like in a dream, toward her place in the front of the stage, moved only by the demanding memory of the thousand times she had done just the same. She stood on the cold stone floor in position: her hands next to her body, her right foot ahead of her left one, her head turned down and to the right… Gazing in that direction, her eyes was set on Morena's legs. She could notice a red mark on her left leg, but did not paid any attention in the first moment. Suddenly - a moment later - her heart leaped with joy inside her. A red mark? That means… that means… that means that THAT was the "thing" her foot hit that morning! It was Morena who caused her shameful fall, deliberately - it wasn't Ayrien's mistake at all! Instead of the expected anger after such a discovery, the feelings that flooded her had no trace of blackness. Pure joy, happiness and the self-assure she needed so much replaced in a swift the apprehension and fear that confused her so much, clearing her head like the first rain of the year. Her face brightened up, and when the music began, Ayrien danced like she had never danced before. Her jumps were higher, her movements sharper yet much more delicate, her taps cleaner and quicker then ever. She knew very well she has to dance with sealed face, but she could not care - a large smile places itself on her lips, and no force in the world could remove it… just as nothing could turn off the sparkles of joy lightening her eyes.

Another set of eyes was sparkling, yet not with joy: Tune's eyes were opened wide in amazement. He was never treated like that before! He was never looked at in such admiration, he was never talked to with such respect. Being a mere shepherd before he joined with the legendary Fianna, he was used to be treated not much better then the sheep he guarded, and sometimes even worst. It was the first time people was looking at him as equal - and better! And if that was not enough to amaze him, this girl was… Oh, he could spend hours and hours just watching her! Dancing like that, effortless, almost flying, she looked to him more like a fairy. Her burning-red curls waved to and fro, hiding and revealing her mysterious smile… the smile was the last arrow to finally pierce Tune's heart, leaving him speechless, eyes wide open.
"Common, go to her!" a whisper from behind his shoulder scared the amazed Tune to his feet once the dance was over. Duive was there, laughing. "You don't have to jump like that, lad! I won't bite ya! Now, common - you were gazing at her long enough. Get up and do somethin' !"
"But what, Duive, what? How can I approach such a distinguished girl? She won't even look at me!"
"Oh, leave that bullshit in the field! You're not a shepherd-boy anymore; you’re Fianna! Now get to that lassie and take her for a dance - and hurry, or I will do it!" With this words Duive pushed the hesitating Tune forward - and the lad found himself in front of Ayrien, struggling to find his tongue.

Ayrien was enjoying the attention like a thirsty flower flooded with water. It was no new feeling for Ayrien - it was not her first nor her hundredth dance - but unlike other times, the people greeting her meant a whole lot more to her then the fact she is being greeted. They were the Fianna! The Fianna were greeting her! HER! She moved between the crowded people like a butterfly, returning warm smiles, nodding, changing witted remarks with the merry warriors. The other girls were gathered aside, gossiping and giggling, waiting for an invitation to dance - but she was a loved queen among her subjects, walking proudly yet not unapproachable. Suddenly, a tall something blocked the light from the great fire in the middle of celebration - the excited Tune stood there, gathering all his courage to speak with her. "May I dance with you, O beautiful lady?" he finally asked, hoping she didn't heard the tremble in his voice. He was tall and handsome, and he was Fianna - "I don't see why not, O brave warrior".

***

"You're cold, father!" the evening was wearing, getting closer and closer to it's end, and so was the once great fire. Though Ayrien was having the best time she had in years, dancing with almost each and every warrior, she had not even once forgot her dear father. "Why won't you go home, it's getting late…"
"Your father is old, dear daughter, but not as much as you make it sound! The head's place is with the body, and the village head's place is with the people"
Ayrien gave up - she knew the argument was lost before it even began. He will not move from there. "I shall get you a blanket, father" she said - and disappeared into the thin air. "You don't have to go all the way to--" he called after her, but she was not there anymore.

After a short while he removed his eyes from where she was, looking for someone he knew he would find gazing in the same direction. It didn't take him long to find Tune, and he signaled him to approach. The young warrior did as he was asked to with a heavy heart - he was afraid the lass' father would do as all the fathers he knew in his short life had done, and commands him to leave his daughter… The first thing he heard did not comforted him:
"I want to warn you, lad"
"I hear you, O Lord of Taru". The trembling voice of Tune made Taru look at him, and find the deep paleness on his face. He burst in a short, warm laugh.
"Don't be afraid, lad. I won't try to keep ya away from Ayrien." Tune's relief could almost be seen. "I wanted to warn you from the lass herself" Curious, Tune sat beside Taru. "What can I be warned from, talking about such a beautiful rose?"
"Roses are beautiful flowers, but when trying to collect one you must be careful from its prickles. Ayrien is no regular lass"
"That cannot be unnoticed!"
"True, but her prickles can. Before you try to conquer her heart, you must know that this heart is braver then women's heart should regularly be. Her blood is hotter then her hair. Her spirit… her spirit is more free then a wild bird in the open sky. She grew up with no mother - but I doubt if a mother could cage such a bird. She will never be the patient woman, waiting for her husband quietly at home. She will not be the delicate flower kept inside its bowl. This girl rides better then any man I know, and let me tell you a secret - she fights better then most of them, too."
"Fights? But…"
"But teaching a girl to fight is not accepted? True. When I found her spying the boy's training, imitating them and training herself like that, I was furious. But no meter how many times I explained her its forbidden, no meter how many punishes she had to take, she was caught there time after time." The lord stopped for a moment, smiling to himself from the depths of his memories. "In the beginning of every spring, during the 1st of May celebrations, our youngest warriors have a competition of their own to test and demonstrate their skills. When she was 10, she managed to get into this competition, dressed as a boy. She won it. Since then I understood nothing can be done, and she's the only girl around that is allowed to be trained"
Both men were now deep in thoughts, gazing into the air. Taru was captured in memories, seeing again his proud daughter on the winner's place, taking off the little helmet and mask and revealing her identity, leaving her audience mouth opened. And Tune… he was fascinated. If you think his feeling was decreased by that story, you cannot be further from the truth. As him, she broke tradition. As him, she followed her dream. As him, she became a warrior, although all the odds were against her. And she was so lovely still… He must have her. He must! A dreamy look in his eyes, Tune got up.
"I see this will not prevent you from trying your chances with my daughter. Very well. But always keep this in your mind: She had no easy life. She was grown not by a mother but by her step aunt, a very hard woman, and a bunch of men who couldn't give her the love a mother can. Try to cage her - and she will run away, never to return. Hurt her in any way - and you will be hurt harder then you can possibly imagine. Find the key to her heart - and you will reveal warm that was locked for too many years."
"Thank you, O Lord. I will treasure this always". Taru looked carefully on the young excited face, and then nodded his head.
"You will, I can see you will. And let me offer you another piece of knowledge that may help you… Talk with her about her horse, and you'll have her undivided attention" The old men winked, and Tune felt he can't spend another moment before trying that suggestion. His heart was beating wild in his chest, threatening to tear it and fly alone toward Ayrien. He bowed, unable to verbalize his deep thankfulness.
"Run, laddy, run and find her as long as she's alone. Good luck to thee"
But the lord was talking to a back, disappearing in the same direction his daughter's back disappeared not a long time ago.

***

Nobody noticed, but another figure made its way toward the same direction. A bent shadow followed Tune from the bushes aside the road. If the young well-trained warrior were in his full senses, he would have probably felt this shadow, sensing with the warrior's sharp senses there is something wrong. But his mind was a slave to his feelings, his senses locked on one destination only, and the smile on his face was not dimmed by the suspicion something is not as it supposed to be…

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