1: Another Day, Another Suitor
“Ah, Lord Rioghnan. It is always such a pleasure to be welcomed into your home,” another Lord whose name Saoirse has never bothered to learn greets her father fondly as he enters their mansion. The two noblemen share a brotherly embrace while Saoirse watches disdainfully from the top of the grand staircase, waiting to make her obligatory grand entrance. She fought with Marianne and Vivica, the ladies who attend her and the closest thing she has to friends, for hours, but they succeeded in lacing her into a blue velvet gown and tying her hair up into something fashionable, much to her chagrin. Tonight is the latest in a long line of formal suppers Lord Rioghnan is hosting in the hopes of finding a wealthy man his daughter is willing to marry.
To Lord Rioghnan’s increasing frustration, Saoirse has shown no interest in marrying anyone.
“Lord Grimwold, the pleasure is mine, to host a man of your merits. Have you met my daughter, Lady Saoirse Rioghnan?” her father replies to his wealthy friend. This is Saoirse’s cue, and she slowly descends the staircase as she has been taught to do. Tonight she has decided to play nicely with others until supper is actually served. It would never do for her to fall into a pattern; then her father could plan to thwart her antics, and Saoirse is very keen on her antics outlasting the parade of formal suppers.
“I believe this is our first meeting,” Lord Grimwold replies, eyeing Saoirse appreciatively, as he ought; the blue velvet gown flatters her figure in all the right places and matches her eyes exactly, her blonde updo is the height of fashion, and jewels are practically dripping from her neck, hair, ears, and left wrist. She extends that hand for him to kiss in his greeting. “I am enchanted, Lady Saoirse. Absolutely enchanted.”
“Charming,” she replies briefly. It takes all of her willpower not to gag at his pleasantries. The man must be twice her age, and while he is by far not the ugliest suitor she has entertained at her father’s behest, he is by no means anything special to look at.
“Come, let us sup. The dining room is this way,” Lord Rioghnan urges them, sweeping a calculating gaze over his daughter and his guest. She is not misbehaving yet. Does she like the look of this one, or is she playing at something? he wonders. Not for the first time, he silently laments his daughter’s infuriating cleverness as he leads the way to the dining room. Saoirse politely declines Lord Grimwold’s proffered arm. I live here, dimwit. You needn’t escort me to my own dining room, she grumbles internally.
As soon as they are settled in the dining room, with the help of the ever-present wait staff Lord Rioghnan insists on keeping, the first course parades out on the arms of immaculately clad servants, a charming salad studded with fresh berries and small pieces of roast pork belly. Saoirse waits until both her father and his guest are eating before taking the daintiest, most ladylike of mouthfuls. She has decided that tonight she will act a proper lady until one of the men deigns to include her in their conversation, and then the truth will be revealed.
She waits through the salad course as the men discuss their latest business ventures. She silently sips her soup course while the men discuss the weather and the local game for hunting. She is halfway through the main course, a succulent roast chicken accompanied by a root vegetable medley, before either of them seems to recall that she is there.
“And Lady Saoirse, how do you spend your time while your father is so successfully growing his wealth?” Lord Grimwold asks her. He has kept at least one eye on her through his whole conversation with her father, which she has found entirely unnerving and in no way any inducement to marry the man.
“I ride, sir, and study literature and languages, and play the harp, and work in the greenhouse, and sometimes I visit the kitchen for a cooking lesson,” she answers honestly.
“Such variety of activities! I thought the daughters of noble houses kept themselves to ladylike pursuits such as embroidery.”
“Stitchery bores me, sir. I would much rather be out of doors, or else learning something new.”
“Saoirse, dear, perhaps we should speak of something else,” Lord Rioghnan hints.
Saoirse smiles slightly. “As you wish, Father. Please do go on about your business ventures, and how you are extorting taxes and fines from the villagers around our home. That subject never fails to interest me.”
“Do you study finance also, Lady Saoirse?” Lord Grimwold inquires as Lord Rioghnan reddens with fury.
“Not at all, sir. But I do study the plight of the common people, or did before my father forbade me to leave his property on my rides.”
“Saoirse,” Lord Rioghnan warns.
“What is it, Father? Has something you’ve eaten displeased you? I told Brennan to be absolutely certain not to serve you any beets, as I know how they plague your digestion—”
“That’s quite enough, Saoirse.”
“As you wish, Father.”
“You mentioned the harp, Lady Saoirse. How long have you been playing?” Lord Grimwold questions after a brief, awkward gap in the conversation.
“Ever since I could sit up by myself and pluck at the strings I’ve been playing at it, sir. Father relented and got me a tutor when I was about six, I believe.”
“You must be quite proficient.”
“Perhaps. The enjoyment of it is the main thing.”
“What songs do you play?”
“Anything I can get music for. Sometimes I improvise, but Father hates that. Are you also musically inclined, Lord Grimwold?”
“I’m afraid I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, and I’ve never tried my hand at a musical instrument. But I enjoy listening to others play.”
“I never took you for a man of any frivolous interests,” Lord Rioghnan interjects to his friend. He would much prefer for Saoirse to be seen and not heard.
“Frivolous? I never thought so. But to each their own.”
“How could it be otherwise? Who ever made a profit on music?”
“It brings many happiness, Father, which I consider profit enough,” Saoirse interjects quietly.
“Try to spend your happiness at the market and see how far it gets you, foolish girl.”
“I would gladly try, if I were permitted to leave this parcel of property.”
“Why is it you feel you must keep that rule but cannot be taught when to hold your tongue?”
Saoirse chooses not to answer this one. Her father’s temper is coming dangerously close to boiling over, and while she finds Lord Grimwold rather spineless, he is not the least interesting suitor who has ever come to supper and she would not mind at least getting to taste dessert.
“Why should she have to hold her tongue, when she is an interesting conversationalist?” Lord Grimwold asks Lord Rioghnan, much to Saoirse’s surprise. “We are having this supper because I expressed to you my interest in finding a wife and you have a daughter of marriageable age, are we not? I would think it strange to agree to take a woman to wife without at least talking with her first.”
“Women seldom do anything of interest without their husbands present. Her wit is wasted on one of her sex,” Lord Rioghnan mutters. Saoirse’s temper flares and she barely restrains herself from fleeing the room or saying something improper. “But, since you have raised the point, how find you Lady Saoirse?”
“I have yet to see another of equal beauty or intelligence, and I think I could like her quite well, were you not impeding the conversation.”
“Begging your pardon, sir, but you cannot expect me to leave my virgin daughter alone in the company of any man, no matter how good a friend he is to me.”
“It is of no use, Father. I’ll not marry as a favor to you, or to further enrich you. Lord Grimwold, you have been ever so lovely to dine with, but I cannot see us being happy together. I wish you all the best in your search for a wife,” Saiorse declares as she rises from the table and curtsies. She swiftly walks out of the room without waiting for any sort of reply or dismissal.
“Oh no you don’t, willful child.” Lord Rioghnan grunts like an angry boar as he gets up from the table. His heavy, purposeful strides soon overtake Saoirse’s smaller steps. The devil take all high-heeled shoes, she curses silently. “How dare you behave in such a way? Here’s a man who might actually be willing to tolerate you—”
“And I deserve better than a man who will simply tolerate me. Father, he must be at least twice my age—”
“No different than the gap between your mother and I—”
“For all the good that did her, dying in childbirth before I was two! How old was she, twenty-one? Perhaps I’d like to live to see a few more years than that!”
Saoirse sees stars as Lord Rioghnan slaps her, hard, across the face. She denies him the pleasure of any sort of reaction. It’s not the first time he’s hit her.
“That is enough, young lady, more than enough,” he growls coldly before calling for Vivica and Marianne. Both ladies appear mere moments later; they had been waiting close by, afraid of something exactly like this. “You will escort Lady Saoirse to her chambers and see to it that she does not leave them until she has become more agreeable and sees the reason of marrying sooner rather than later, to as wealthy a man as will have her.”
“Yes, Lord Rioghnan,” Vivica and Marianne murmur severally. Each of them takes one of Saoirse’s arms and they walk together up the grand staircase and then two more staircases to the finished attic that is Saoirse’s place in the mansion. She goes willingly with them; better this than finishing that meal, at least for the time being.
A/N: Hi all. This is an idea I started from the cover image in the sixth grade, the idea that first sparked my interest in writing fiction. That was seventeen years ago (!!!!!), and I have decided to give the idea a makeover without rereading any of my previous iterations of it (so this can only end well). I've spent most of a weekend mapping this bad boy out, and I'm going to upload chapters as I write them, which is not something I normally do.
Please let me know what you think of it! If you love it, follow me or add it to a reading list for updates.