Her voice dropped even further, but Aidan could still make it out. "Thought that you might want to poke her a bit, see if she's done." "Did you, now?" He rubbed his nose against hers, slowly, then turned back briskly to his son. "Get the catch in, lad."
"Yes, Da," he replied. His twin sister Nessa ran up behind him, cotton smock almost impossibly clean, as if the dust and the dirt never quite managed to touch her. Once Aidan and Nessa had been exactly alike, but time and the eternal variance of male and female were beginning to mold them. Aidan was browner, muscle just beginning to tauten his arms. Nessa's hair was almost strawberry, and she stood a thumb taller, but his father told him not to worry, the coming summer would probably see an end to that.
Their spiritual upbringing had been a compromise. They had been weaned on stories of both Jesus and the forest folk, the Tuatha de Danann and the Nativity, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and that of Ana, mother of the Irish gods. Nessa tended more toward the ways of the Druids, Aidan more toward Christianityit made for fine, fierce family arguments.
But however much the siblings quarreled and bickered, the two shared secrets that no other living creature would ever know: Where Aidan hid the Druid stones won last Festival (since his mother wouldn't let them in the house). Who had given Nessa her first kiss (Geirig, the stonecutter's son). What bend in the Lady held the fattest frogs, the ones who fairly jumped upon the nearest spear.
Nessa helped him heave the net up onto the dock and into their wheeled cart. "Looks like a good pull," she said.
"Good weight in it," he said, strutting a bit. Together they could just manage the load their father had drawn up with seemingly little effort.
Every cook and carpenter seemed to be chattering as they pushed their way toward the squat, thatched shape of the communal smokehouse. "Thought you weren't coming back tonight," Nessa said. "You'd miss the dancing and the games." She dropped her voice a bit. "I think that Morgan would have cried."
"Go on, now." His voice mocked her, but beneath that facade lay interest. Morgan ran faster than any of the other girls in the crannog, her bare feet seeming almost to float above the ground. But she ran just a little faster whenever Aidan chased her, and many of the adults nodded and chuckled when they saw how he never caught her, which frustrated him all the more. And more than once Mahon had suggested that one day, Morgan might let him catch her after all.
He caught a glimpse of her as they trundled the net to the smoke hut. She was in the midst of some chasing game, elusive and feathery-swift as always. Heart-faced and red-haired, slender as some forest creature, she hid behind a low peat wall, but he spied her. She knew that he saw her, and raised a slender finger to her lips, begging silence. His face grew long and stern, as if considering whether or not to give her her wish. As the clutch of pursuing boys and girls ran by he said nothing to betray her position, and her thankful smile was radiant.
No words were said, but he was suddenly certain, and unexpectedly pleased at the thought, that one day soon Morgan would indeed let him catch her.
Copyright 2002 by Steven Barnes
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