This is abominably late—Arielle posted this challenge back in March—but like the man said, Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. :P But the theme has been pottering around my brain and won’t go away, so I decided to give it a go. The quote:
Again, the real challenge was thinking up a good scene to feature this idea. I was going to do it with Prince Nácil and Lady Müriel…but that wasn’t going anywhere, so I wrote it with Tom and Ember instead.
A bit of background on this scene: Tom and Ciaran have just come to live in Glenwood Forest with Gil the Green and his band of Yeomen, but the Glenwood Orphan Home is full, so Mother Túla decides to have Tom live in an empty cottage with a few other young ladies, with a Yeomaiden who is of age to be “den-mother.” This scene takes place while they’re getting the cottage cleaned up and set up for its new inmates.
* * *
Tom slipped away from the group, overwhelmed with shyness and the bustle of putting the cottage in order. She sought sanctuary in the lovely deep window seat in the sitting-room, clutching her bundle to her chest like a lifeline. Anton and Ciaran and some of the bigger boys from the orphan home carried bed-frames up the stairs amid Mother Túla’s admonitions to be careful. A few of the older girls whisked the covers off the furniture and shook off the dust in clouds, while one or two attacked it with feather-dusters and beeswax.
Tom knew she ought to help out, but the sitting-room seemed so small, she feared she would only get in the way. And the thought of trying to converse with strange girls made her cringe. What’s the matter with me? she chided herself. I spent six months aboard a shipful of dirty, smelly, foul-mouthed pirates, and survived. Why am I suddenly terrified of a handful of nice girls only five years younger an myself—more or less? She sighed. But then, I never did get on with my peers, she recalled cynically, and as for the pirates—well, I had to act braver than I felt and not show weakness, otherwise I wouldn’t have survived.
One of the girls—the willowy one with a mane of fiery, kinky-curly locks—spotted Tom, cocked her head with a thoughtful tilt of the mouth, and strode purposefully up to her. “I take it you’ve no love for housekeeping, neither,” she chuckled wryly, with a lovely soft Gaelic accent.
“Er—well, no, actually,” Tom flubbed, unprepared for such a statement. “But I suppose I ought to help instead of—”
“Och, never mind that,” the girl drawled, tossing a chunk of curls over her shoulder. “T’others can handle it. What say I give you a tour o’ the garden? ’Twill be much more pleasant than being shut up in this stuffy house.”
Tom didn’t think the interior of the Rambling Rose so very stuffy—crowded, perhaps, just now, but not stuffy. On the other hand, she did long to examine the lovely flowers she’d seen growing in the yard….
“Come on,” the redhead prodded, offering her hand. “They’ll not be needing us; there’s too many folk in here anyhow.”
Tom rose, nodding, and timidly took the other girl’s hand.
The red-haired girl fairly skipped out the door, dragging the still-reluctant Tom behind her. When they reached the front lawn, the girl dropped Tom’s hand and took a deep breath, closing her eyes in delight. “Ah, that’s better,” she remarked. “Too much dust swirling about in there. I’m Ember, by-the-bye,” she added, smiling at Tom. “Ember MacTavish.”
“Tom—er, Fiona Godwyn,” Tom flubbed, mentally kicking herself for her slip-up.
The Ember-girl raised an eyebrow. “Tom?”
Tom sighed. “It’s…complicated. But I’d rather not discuss it. It—it might be…dangerous…for anyone to know my real name for a while.”
“Dangerous, eh?” Ember chuckled, “’Tis exciting, that sounds! Yours must be an interesting story, for you to be having a boy’s name, and for it to be dangerous for anyone to know why.”
“It’s short for Thomasina,” Tom explained reluctantly, “but I hate it.”
“I don’t blame you,” Ember chuckled. “Fiona suits you better.” She grinned broadly. “I think we’re going to be good friends, you an’ I,” she declared.
Tom blinked, torn between a half-second of panic and a sort of startled delight at this unexpected statement. “How do you know?” she asked timidly. “You don’t even know my real name—or much of anything about me.”
“I’ve been watching you, I have, an’ I like you, Tommy-lass. And I don’t say that to just anybody.” She extended her hand. “Put ’er there.”
Tom shook the offered hand with a feeling of being granted a special honor. She fought down the uncertainty that always accompanies a new friendship and smiled at Ember. “Thank you.”
“For what, then?”
Tom bit her lip. “For wanting me for a friend.”
* * *
As always, feel free to offer any suggestions/criticisms. It’s not quite how I wanted it, but I don’t know how to fix it. :-P
Until next time, Gentle Readers,