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The Wager

Siobhan was raised in the forests of Durhain. From her father, Eoin, Huntsman to Lord Kyrie, she learned about animals, hawks, hounds, horses and how to handle them. From her mother, Megan, the local healer and midwife, she learned the Healing Arts, which plants were useful, which ones were dangerous and which ones were both. From the Lady Alaiz, wife to Lord Kyrie, Siobhan learned tact and diplomacy, as well as reading and writing. Lord Kyrie himself taught her the most valuable lessons, though. By watching him hold Courts, Siobhan learned self-discipline, wisdom and how to tell truth from lies.

As was custom, Siobhan was brought before Lord Kyrie's Courts on her twelfth birthday. According to custom, her future husband would be announced. Siobhan had other ideas.

"I have no wish to marry," she announced, after the Bailiff had stated their names and business. In the shocked silence that followed, Siobhan stepped from between her parents and curtsied.

"Lord Kyrie, many times I have watched you hold Courts. Many times you have said that this man, that woman or that one way of doing things was a waste of time, talent and money. To wed me to anyone, no matter how suitable in temperament we are, would be such a waste. I have little or no training in the housewifely arts. The only sewing I know is for the purpose of binding deep wounds. The only bed I can make well is in the stables. I could no sooner tell you how long it takes to cook a joint of meat than you could tell me where to find Fairy Bells this time of year."

Lord Kyrie raised an eyebrow, inviting her to continue.

Siobhan swallowed hard and glanced back at her parents to include them in her next remarks. "Lord Kyrie, I mean no disrespect to anyone, most certainly not to you or the one you have chosen as my husband, but I am not trained for such a life. I am not suited to it. By permitting me to attend Courts, you have shown me that there is a greater world out there than just the confines of this castle and the length and breadth of your lands."

Siobhan blushed. "And I believe, my lord, that I should like to see these other places for myself."

Lord Kyrie sat watching her, arms folded, on thumb stroking thoughtfully along his lower lip as she spoke. He raised his head slightly when she'd finished speaking. "So you think you're old enough to earn your own keep, do you?" he asked. She gave him a disgusted look as only a twelve-year-old can and Kyrie bit back a smile.

"Of course not,' Siobhan snapped. "Only a fool wouldn't know that the Sisters of Ehlonna will be here in less than a fortnight." Her eyes widened and her hands flew to her mouth. There were gasps and murmurs from the others present. "My lord, I am sorry. I didn't mean to imply that..." What had possessed her to make such a remark?

Siobhan tried not to squirm as Kyrie's glower went from herself to her parents behind her and then sideways, to the others waiting to petition him. She followed his gaze to a gangly young man who was busy trying not to laugh.

"You find this amusing, young baker's apprentice?"

The apprentice dropped his eyes to the floor, blushing. "No, milord." Siobhan was too afraid herself to think of the apprentice with any sympathy.

The man beside him, aproned and be-floured as befit his trade, spoke up. "My lord, given the circumstances, we would be willing to wait another year to see if her manners improve. Such outbursts from my son's wife,' Jer indicated the young man. "Such outbursts would not be good for business."

Siobhan's jaw dropped. She was to be married to Willem, the baker's son? No! Everyone knew that Jer had a heavy fist and didn't hesitate to use it. There was no reason to believe that the son was any better. This was not possible! She spun to look at her mother.

Megan nodded her affirmation of the silent question. She looked worried.

Siobhan took a step towards her mother, but was brought up short by Lord Kyrie.

"Well, daughter of my huntsman, you say you will not marry and the baker says he'll not have you unless your manners are better. I doubt the Sisters would appreciate your lack of discipline, either. Hmmm.... Let me think on it."

Eoin bowed and his wife and daughter curtsied. "As you wish, milord." As a time limit hadn't been set, the three remained at the edges of the Courts. The baker and his son, too, waited.

Siobhan spent much of her time lost in thought, trying to remember the arguments that had swayed Lord Kyrie in the past and which approaches hadn't worked. Kyrie could go either way and still the law would be with him. It would be best to be prepared, Siobhan thought.

She stole a glance at Willem. His leering wink stiffened her spine and her resolve. If Lord Kyrie didn't agree to let her go with the Sisters, she'd run away and meet up with them further down the road. Or, she thought, I could meet them back at the Temple of Ehlonna. She'd need to find out where that was. Maybe she could ask one of the Sisters.

Her head filled with plans, created and discarded, Siobhan didn't see the significant look that passed between the baker, Kyrie and her parents. She didn't even notice that Willem was looking at her with undisguised amusement.

"Eoin. Megan. Siobhan." Lord Kyrie's voice broke rudely into Siobhan's thoughts. She looked up, startled. Her parents' arms around her shoulders propelled her to a spot in front of the lord again.

"I have decided. If," and he stressed the word. "If the Sisters will agree to take such an undisciplined child, she may go."

Siobhan's relief was short-lived.

"She may stay with them for one year. If they feel that she is Temple material, they may pay bride-price to Jer, the baker. If not, then one year and one month from today, Siobhan will wed Willem," Lord Kyrie said.

For the next two weeks, Siobhan poured over her mother's notes on healing and herbs. She badgered her father for information on wild creatures. Were they like domesticated ones? Were their habits similar? How did they think?

Kyrie, Alaiz, Megan and Eoin stood on the steps to the keep, watching the Sisters of Ehlonna walk out the gate to the next stop on their annual pilgrimage, Siobhan safely in their midst. Kyrie clapped Eoin on the back and said, " Well, that's one bottle of wine I owe you, man. I vow, I've never seen anyone think so hard as she did in the Courts."

Eoin chuckled. "I told you. Tell her she couldn't do something and she'd move mountains to prove you wrong."

Kyrie grinned. "Think you she'll be back in a year?"

Megan laughed outright. "Milord, she's done more studying in the last two weeks than I've been able to convince her to do in the last two years. Come back to marry Willem? I don't think so. I thought she was going to faint when Willem winked at her. He's a nice lad, not at all like his father."

Alaiz nodded. "I'd noticed that. Maybe I'll buy out his apprenticeship and set him to work in the kitchens."

Kyrie looked startled, but Eoin only laughed. "Then I had best get back to work. Lord Kyrie will need the extra money if you insist on buying everyone's apprenticeship, my Lady."

The last thing that Siobhan saw as she passed out of the gate was her parents laughing with the Lord and Lady. That's a good way to remember them, she thought. I'm not coming back.