The fate of the village, in the year Meg had been away, left her feeling more than a little ashamed and disturbed. She had never realized how much they depended on her -- and Deirdre, it seemed -- to help sow and harvest the wheat. It was always their outsized effort that had created enough surplus to satisfy the queen’s taxes while everyone else could be well-fed. Without them around, the queen demanded her usual amount, and the clan chief stole most of the cattle, and it was too much for the village to bear. Three of the elders – Alby, Eber and Amarachi – had starved and died, as had little Feidelm, and Ekene, and Sláine, and four newborns unnamed. Muirgen had drowned, the only death that year that anyone would attribute to misadventure. All the other deaths, the village laid at the feet of the Queen.

Including deaths in battle. The villagers had elected to keep what grain they could for the sake of those left, which meant defending the walls against the queen's own warriors, and so fell bold Bran, firey Fearghas, and the daring Ciara.

So as Conall, Muirenn, and the remaining elders Boann and Mochán, held council with Meg and Deirdre in the central roundhouse, Conall's face was even grimmer than it might have been, in the light of the fire.

"It could have been worse," said Muirenn. "Aoife taught enough of us to shoot that we had some good hunts. Easy enough for beginners, and there was plenty enough game, wasn't there. But the queen noticed and demanded a few of those in taxes as well. You used to keep the deer and boar population low enough that the queen thought our forest was poor pickings. Now she knows otherwise."

"And she knows this place furnishes decent warriors," said Boann. "She'll be demanding some of the lads and lasses for her own service. That could get awkward if we wind up fighting against them."

"Hasn’t happened yet," said Meg.

"Soon enough," said Conall.

"Lighter topic, please?" signed Deirdre.

Conall did not appear to notice, as he continued speaking. "Your long absence upset a lot of things, Meg. I'm glad to have Deirdre back, we all are, but…but couldn't you have brought your fiancée back faster, and not looking so weird?"

"Fiancée?" Meg's face grew hot. She turned to Deirdre, who had been looking frustrated, but giggled at the sight of Meg.

"We were going to get married," signed Deirdre.

"There is so very much I seem to have forgotten," signed Meg.

"That's sign language," said Muirenn. "Isn't it?"

Mochán harrumphed. "I'm more interested in the fact that Meg seems to have forgotten something so important as who she was intending to marry. I seem to recall a discussion on that matter. And Meg, where did your ring go?"

"It's a long story," said Tally beside Mochán.

Mochán jumped.

"Aren't you supposed to be minding Fia?" signed Deirdre.

Fia tapped Deirdre on the shoulder.

Deirdre jumped.

"Neither of you were invited to this council," said Boann.

"That doesn't stop her," said Meg. "Fia, go play with the other children."

Fia winked at Tally as she departed.

"Thanks for that," said Tally. "I needed a more authoritative parent to get her out of my hair. Now, as for the story of Meg and Deirdre – "

"Don't you dare start singing," said Meg.

Tally put his lyre back down. "Come on. We need to lighten the mood around here somehow."

"Talking of which," signed Deirdre, "I'm glad you're here. You can translate sign language better than Meg. There's some complicated things I want to talk about here. Including – " And then she made a sign Meg did not recognize.

Tally scowled. "We're not talking about that," he signed.

Deirdre's arms signed wider. "We have to talk about  -- " Again she made the sign Meg did not recognize.

"What sign is that?" said Meg. "Tally, what is she trying to say?"

"I'm not going to tell you," said Tally aloud. He crossed his arms and looked away.

Deirdre's face looked like she was about call lightning down from the sky. She stood, picked up Tally, and, ignoring his protests, bore him out of the roundhouse. Meg picked up his lyre and followed.

Deirdre was marching straight towards the village walls, not heeding a word of Tally's, until at last he disappeared from her grasp and appeared behind her. "Shame on you!" he signed, his arms whirling as wide as they could go. "That was extremely rude, and you embarrassed me! Do you want me to make a song that makes you look foolish?"

"Don't tell me what's rude!" signed Deirdre, her arms flinging wide and wild like branches in a gale. "You refused to translate! You stole my remaining voice, after I lost my speech and my song! You put me under your power! You think picking you up like a child compares at all to what you did to me? I don't know if I can trust my daughter to you now!"

"Also his daughter," said Meg. "He did watch her for a year, and who knows how long before that."

Deirdre turned her fiery gaze upon Meg, and it might have felled one of lesser strength, but Meg stood firm. She had seen this look from Deirdre before. It was difficult to forget. Not that it was easy to remember much else, but she could remember Deirdre's fury.

"As for what happened," continued Meg, "I will ask you to keep helping me learn sign language, until I know it well enough that Deirdre cannot be silenced."

"And we will teach everyone else," said Deirdre. "I certainly cannot rely on a small number of translators. As for teaching – "

"I cannot in good conscience accept this course of action," said Tally. "It is extremely dangerous."

"What course?" said Meg.

"Not telling!"

"Tally." Meg knelt before him. "Just translate the damn sign. You don't have to tell me what it means. Alright?"

Tally sighed. "The word is 'read'. I mentioned it once, when Deirdre tried to finger-spell. Letters, and all that. Nope. Not going to explain any more."

"Thank you," signed Deirdre.

"Why won't you explain any more?" said Meg.

"Well," said Tally, "it's because – nope! You're not tricking me into telling you anything! I think I will go record the adventures of some other hero for a while." And he vanished into thin air.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.