It was a relief to see lights and buildings after the hours of nothing but trees. On the other hand, buildings meant people and she was in no state to meet anyone.
Liam’s family lived elsewhere, she knew that much from the day’s conversation. Tonight she would be meeting the senior forester, John, and his family.
As the cart pulled up next to one of the larger buildings in the group, the door to it opened and an imposing figure came striding out, “What took you so long man? I’ve not been sure whether to write you off for another day of town hijinks or send out a search party.”
John, for this was surely him, came to a halt by the cart, “Well what have we here?”
“John, I’d like you to meet Anaria, my betrothed.”
“WHAT?! You finally managed to find a sensible young woman prepared to have you?”
John bellowed with laughter, “I’m presuming you’re a sensible woman lass.”
Anaria answered with a tired smile, “I used to think so sir, although I am wondering a little right now.”
“Oh you’ll do very nicely. Liam get the poor girl indoors, I’ll take care of the horse.”
Liam jumped down and moved around the cart to help her, a steadying arm around her waist as her legs protested. John led the cart away and Anaria was urged towards the light spilling out of the door.
They stepped into a large room, comfortably filled with the paraphernalia of a busy family life.
A woman stood from her place by the fire and looked questioningly at them.
“Sarah, this is Anaria, my betrothed. Anaria, Sarah is the village healer and John’s wife.”
“It’s lovely to meet you Sarah.”
“Your betrothed? Oh this is going to be a good story I can tell. But you look all done in. Get that cloak off and come by the fire to warm up. I presume you’ve had no supper.”
Liam grimaced, “Nothing since lunch I’m afraid. I wanted to get us back home tonight, so pushed the pace a little.”
“You are very late.”
Anaria spoke up, “It’s my fault. Last night was, eventful, and Liam was kind enough to let me sleep this morning.”
“And I suppose I’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning to hear of these events.”
Liam and Anaria both went to speak but she cut them off with a smile, “No, don’t try now, you’re both too tired and it will be all of a muddle.”
As Sarah gathered food and brought plates to both of them by the fire, Anaria screwed up her courage.
“I’m afraid one of the things you’ll discover tomorrow is that I’m near useless around household tasks. I’m going to be something of a burden while I learn.”
“And that hasn’t set my curiosity afire! Thank you for the warning and I’m sure everything will be fine. Now we only have our room and Liam’s and you know he’ll behave himself but if you’re uncomfortable sharing…”
“No, no, we already discussed that, it’s fine, thank you.”
Sarah smiled and settled back into her seat, picking up the knitting she’d left off when they’d entered.
Liam nudged Anaria with his shoulder, “Eat town girl, it’ll warm you up and help you sleep.”
“I don’t think I’ll need any help sleeping.”, She tucked in, finishing her plate just as John came back in.
“All settled then? I suppose it’s too much to hope you’ve brought us the weaver we’ve been needing lad.”
Anaria winced and looked down, Liam’s arm came round her protectively and Sarah tutted at her husband.
“What? It’s perfectly fine if she’s not one, I’m sure whatever skills she brings will be put to good use.”
Liam pulled her in closer and Anaria realised she had a death grip on his other hand.
Thankfully Sarah spoke up, giving her husband a good-natured scolding for his lack of tact.
Under its cover, Anaria whispered urgently, “Please don’t let me be snappy, I’m trying not to but the words really want to come out and I can’t.”
The last words were close to a wail and Liam hauled her into his lap, “It’s alright Ana, and John is right, you do have skills we can use.”
Anaria caught her breath on a sob, “No I don’t, what the point of three languages when I can’t even fold a blanket?”
Liam looked up at the astonished older couple, Sarah answered his mute appeal.
“Skills and learning never go astray and you’ve already shown you’re ready and willing to learn more now you’re here. You’ll be an asset to the village before you know it.”
John snorted, “If she’s willing to pair herself with this young fool, she’s an asset to the village already.”
The resulting laugh was a little forced but it won an embarrassed smile from Anaria.
“I’m sorry, I’m not usually this ridiculous.”
Liam tightened his arms for a minute, “You’re not ridiculous. Although I am wondering where my snippy town girl’s gone.”
She sat up with an affronted glare, “I am capable of listening on occasion.”
“Ahh, there’s a glimpse. Ana, I’m teasing, I’m sorry. Will you stay if I promise to stop?”
Anaria stopped pushing herself free and checked his face for smirks. None, he was in earnest. She leaned back into him.
“Alright, but if we stay here too much longer, I’m going to fall asleep on you again.”
Sarah and John watched them bemusedly. They’d never seen quiet, reserved Liam so focused on, and so open and comfortable with another person.
“Your courtship must have taken a while with all Liam’s hither and thithering. How many years have you known each other?”
That earned Sarah explosive snorts of laughter from both.
Liam looked at Anaria, “Have we made it to a full day yet?”
“No, I didn’t get back from that awful dance until just after midnight.”
Liam looked over at a now dumbstruck Sarah, “Full explanation in the morning I promise. We’ll make a lot more sense once we’ve slept.”
He then chivvied Anaria up and across the room, through a door into a simple, but to Anaria’s exhausted gaze, delightfully comfortable bedroom.
“I’ll send Sarah in with your bag so you can change. Then hop into bed. There’s a thinner blanket under the top one, you sleep under that and I’ll sleep on top of it, with the heavy blanket over both of us.”
Anaria, was sinking into a fog and only had the haziest notion of Sarah coming in and helping her change into a nightgown, then sliding into the bed. She was asleep before the other woman had left the room.
Sarah raised her eyebrows at Liam as she came out, shutting the door behind her, “What have you gone and done?”
“Made either the best or the worst decision of both my life and hers. No more tonight Sarah, please. It’s been a long day and there’s another long one or more ahead. We’ll talk in the morning.”