Ireland 856 CE
“I renounce Father for this.” Kaireen threw the elderberry gown. Dressed only in her leine, she glared at the new gown on the stone floor.
“Shame on you and your children for speaking such.” Her handmaid, Elva, gathered the damask and then dusted off the rushes. “It’s a wonder one of the clim has not scolded you from your hearth for such talk.” She wore her white hair twisted in a chignon, underneath a linen head cloth. Strands of white hair poked out the sides of her covering.
“No, curse Father for a fool.” She plopped on her bed and a goose feather floated away. With a huff, she leaned against the oak headboard. Red curtains puffed like a robin’s chest around oak poles supporting her wooden canopy.
Her bare feet brushed against the stone floor. Why was she not born plain like her two older sisters? Already they had married and expected their second bairns by spring. Well, at least so far she had enjoyed twenty years of freedom.
Three years longer than her sisters. Her parents had her sisters married by their seventeenth birthday. Marriage at such a late age was uncommon, but her father had wanted suitable matches. They had enjoyed freedom longer than others. Many women were given in marriage soon after their first woman’s cycle.
Neither of her sisters had had matrimonial dreams of love matches. Both were arranged marriages. Margaret was married to an O’Neill. They courted through the long winter and past the blooming of spring with an early summer wedding.
Two months later he roamed other women’s skirts, finding too many others who were willing. Margaret’s irritation was lessened as she was ensured by the Laird O’Neill’s formal letter that no bastard would have claim to her husband’s land or rights if she were widowed.
Her other sister, Shay, and her husband did not set eyes upon each other until the wedding feast. Then they were never separated until tragedy ripped them apart.
Four months ago, her husband was killed in an unexpected skirmish against another clan. Shay refused to admit his death—until his blood-soaked body arrived with his clansmen.
For days she refused to eat or drink. Her salvation was she carried their second unborn child in her womb, and their two-year-old daughter needed a mother. The wee bairn was due this month. Kaireen feared that without the children, her sister would have wasted away without her love.
Often she wondered what her life would be like with a love like Shay’s. A love so strong it threatened her sister’s life . . . or would she prefer Margaret’s marriage, without love and faithfulness?
“You know your da arranged a marriage within a season.” Elva smirked.
Kaireen shook her head. “To another land holder,” and waved a hand in disgust, “not t-this heathen. Twice they raided our land in the last month alone.” She slapped away a strand of her auburn hair from her face. “Their forces choke the land like the town of Ath Cliath, the hurdled ford they call Dubhlinn.” This was in reference to the bank of wooden hurdles the Vikings built across the Liffey River. Recent whispers of a possible spy in their midst sent shivers down Kaireen’s back. What if this foreigner was the spy? What if he had fooled everyone in her clan?
Well, she would not have the wool pulled over her head by likes of a Lochlann.
“Many a raid has come from them. Now father wants me as wife to one of them?” She clenched her fists. “No, I will not marry this Viking or as we call his kind from west Scandia-Lochlanns.” She snatched the green hazel twig from Elva’s outstretched hand. Then she scrubbed her teeth.
When the foreigners had first attacked Ireland, they had been called Gaill. Over time the distinction grew between Gaills, Lochlanns, and Normanni depending on what part of Scandia they swooped down from.
Elva smiled, reminding Kaireen of the rumors of her handmaid’s uncanny foresight. Whispers of Elva making strange things happen and often blamed as the cause of Kaireen’s stubborn refusal to behave as a laird’s daughter should.
Kaireen tossed the twig in the fire burning in the hearth. After taking the woolen cloth Elva handed her, she wiped her teeth.
“You’ve not seen him yet.” Elva wiggled her brows.
“So?” Kaireen shrugged. “I would like to never see him.” She scrubbed her teeth again with the woolen fabric, and then set the cloth aside.
“Well then, would you not like to know if you have a handsome husband or not?” She waited for her response, but Kaireen scowled at her. Elva chuckled. “I would rather get a good look at him now than the morning after.”
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