Of Age to Need It

Title: Of Age to Need It
Time Period: February 1, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Edmund finds that there are aspects of fatherhood he cannot prepare for.

Having someone this close to your throat with a blade is generally a terrible idea.

After the first few strokes, however, Edmund Rowntree has relaxed. There's a lamp glowing softly, bright enough to cast enough illumination to see by, leaning right back into a towl covered armchair. Old scars make patterns across his shoulder, raking at his chest, but it never seems sore anymore for all that it doesn't look completely superficially surface either. His fingers find hair at his chest to scratch, but it's not that that has apparently been bothering the sensibilities of certain others. Soap plasters down the vaguely ginger scraggle that lines his jaw and steals away the definition of his mouth.

Or rather, it would, but by now, there's not much more to complain about.

When he isn't watching her, which is generally when she's looking away to clean off the blade or pick up a cloth, he's observing the encroaching dark out of the partially opened window. It's cold enough to make his skin prickle, but to him, it's not an unpleasant thing, being cold. It stings at old injuries, yes, harks to one's age, but it's also the natural way of things.

"There now," says Aislinn, wiping off slivers of red-brown whisker and lather off on the damp cotton cloth she holds in her opposite hand. "You won't keep the mother ewes and their lambs up at night anymore. Just don't smile at them."

She takes his chin and jaw in her fingers and plants a quick kiss on his mouth lest there be any misunderstanding. "Maybe we should have let you keep it. Now all the other women will see how handsome my husband is under all that fur." When she touches the back of her hand to her nose, it comes away smeared with shaving soap and causes the corners of her mouth to turn up into a small, self-depreciating smile that doesn't scrub away with the cloth.

"Promise me you'll resist?"

"Get them close enough and they've got blades to your throat. I promise." He shifts enough to sit up, hands patting at clean cheeks and jaw like it hasn't been as bare in quite a while, and his skin feels stranger for it.

But no scratches, which is remarkable. Edmund can't recall a time when he's ever done this to himself and not come away bloody. He waits until her hands are empty before reaching and pulling to share the chair with him, on his lap or otherwise. "You'll be needing to teach the boys this yourself. I tend to make a butcher's job of it."

"Unless your plan is to raise our son to become a barber, it's better that you do. Butcher's job or no. He'll need to learn how to do it in front of a mirror and for himself, not sweaty, bare-chested horse lords who stink of smoke and heather." And it isn't a complaint. Aislinn fits snug on Edmund's lap, skirts lifted aside and off her knees, and fondly picks through the hair on the top of his head.

"My father taught my brothers," she says. "I used to be so jealous of them sometimes because they still had Da to show them things, but our mother— she'd been in the ground in a long time by then. He did the best he could with me, only it's not the same. Constance and Celia are lucky to have been born into such a large family."

He's complained about her words before; he has no real complaint this time, regardless, wrinkling his nose just a little as if he's trying to discern whether he should be taking these descriptors as compliments or no. It doesn't actually matter, to Edmund, who is rarely vain (or at least, not to the same lengths as some of his siblings and social equals), not when she is warm and heavy in his lap and her fingers scraping through his hair.

"I'll teach him, then, how best to stop the bleeds," he says, the corner of his mouth turning up wry. "Or how to win a lady who knows how to do it herself and don't mind if it's not every other Sunday."

Aislinn reaches over to pick up a bottle blown from dark glass beside the bowl of warm water, shaving brush and discarded straight razor, still gleaming in the lamplight. "Eamonn," she says, popping the cork, which fills the air with the smell of alcohol, witch hazel and sage. "How old were you when you decided that you didn't want to be your father?"

She pours a thimble's worth of liquid into her hands, sets bottle and cork aside, and rubs the balm into her palms, producing more scents that Edmund easily recognizes from the outdoors: cedar wood, fir needle, and clove.

There is a reason for her asking. She would not have posed the question if she didn't have one, but she offers him no immediate explanation, only the balm's soothing sting when she begins applying it to his face.

That catches him off-guard, having never phrased it this way himself, or ever truly had it be a conscious decision. Doubt that it even makes sense crinkles his forehead even as her hands find his face and glide greasily along its now smooth contours. "How do you mean?" he asks instead of attempting to do anything to unpack that question; he can see in her eyes that she already has the path cut out for their conversation, and it's useless for someone to map it out otherwise.

Or. Useless for Edmund. He generally can't.

"Most children are expected to follow in footsteps," says Aislinn. "The son of a farmer becomes a farmer, the daughter of a seamstress becomes a seamstress. For some parents, that's all they have to give their little ones. Trade skills. A hand in the family business.

"Usually it's the oldest who's groomed to take over, but it's the herd you love, and Donagh is so keen." What little balm is left by the time she's finished she spreads through Edmund's hair to make it shine. "I've never thought the way of things is fair. You're very brave."

"I think occasionally," he says, at a soft drawl, and in what could be modesty but is instead reluctance to own up to implication, "you give me too much credit." Edmund is wrong, there, and he knows it, just— isn't sure how to put what he means into words. More or less, Aislinn is a minority in seeing his decisions— and that is what they are, decisions, not things he simply fell into so Duncan could take the power vacuum— as good and brave and commendable. He is better used to not giving a fuck and making up for it by way of gestures and supporting the town in his own fashion, rather than accepting—

This. "These aren't fair lands," he adds, looking back at her.

"No," Aislinn agrees. "Da used to volunteer for the scavenging parties back in Kerry. Everyone else was after tools and weapons, but he kept asking if they could go to Cork. There was a school there for young people, once — a university. Thousands of men and women learning in great stone buildings with walls of glass and steel. They had a library bigger than even Eilean Donan, filled with books.

"He told me that there used to be a time when anyone could choose what they wanted to be if they were willing to work hard enough for it. It didn't matter who their parents were, or how they made their living." She leans into him, resting her forehead against Edmund's. Her arms circle around his neck. "His stories always made me feel so sad."

He breathes in as she leans, conforming against her in his own way - rangy arms loop around her waist and he lets his head rest a little against her's. "I shouldn't want t'talk old stories to children," Edmund states, after a few moments of peace and, presumably, thought. "Gives them the wrong idea about the ways things are. The world needs farmers, and soldiers, and literates, and sailors."

His chin tips so as better to brush his mouth near her neck as he continues to speak, voice lapsing into that quietly rough place it does when he says more than he usually does, and at a quiet tone. "Though I expect it says a thing f'Dornie when soldiers can be farmers too."

Aislinn lifts her head and presents Edmund with her throat at the touch. Her breathing is soft, relaxed, and the air still and warm, which makes the gunshot that rings out in the next room sound much louder. Her hands go flat and hard against Edmund’s back; there’s an indeterminate period of time where she’s afraid to inhale, utterly stiff in his arms and unmoving, but when she does she feels no pain or wetness on clinging damp and hot to her skin or her husband’s.

That means—

Apart from the initial full-bodied jerk his body gives in trigger to gunshot, Edmund is very still for a moment, his expression drained of anything and hard at the edges, although furious, near unconscious thinking is rapid behind clear blue eyes. And then the idea that someone just fired a gun in the castle kicks his better instincts into gear, and Aislinn is very firmly but not unkindly handled out of his lap, flowing to his feet as soon as she's out of his lap.

It's mainly the thought of pursuit outside the walls of the castle that have him picking up a jacket on the rush out, never mind bare feet slapping their way across the floor.

Aislinn has barely bleated out Edmund's name before he's at the door, flung open, and crossing the threshold into the room that has served as his study, Ariel's nursery, and Aislinn's reference library, walls lined with shelves of medical textbooks and old, dog-eared journals that she cannot easily read.

It turns out that he does not have to venture very far to find the gunshot's source.

This is because it originates from his son's hands. His son, who is apparently as startled by the sound as his parents; his face has gone sheet-white, and fortunately this has nothing to do with blood draining out of his body, only to different parts of it. The boy's fingers make rigid claws around the grip of Edmund's pistol, which he last saw in its holster, hanging up and well out of reach.

But that's what stools are for, isn't it?

Edmund almost slides on the floor where he stops, a hand steadying himself on the edge of the doorway. A moment of stillness ticks by, before he compulsively barks, "Ariel," and pushes himself the rest of the way into the room. He isn't stopping for anything, isn't trying for caution. He is, instead, closing a hand around the gun held in his son's hands, but only to control it as opposed to snatching it away.

His thumb finds the safety, however, even as he's kneeling in front of the kid, other hand roughly gripping his shoulder to turn his body, to see if there's anything wrong and bleeding.

Maybe Ariel expects to be struck — his body tenses under Edmund's hand, and tucks in his chin, eyes dropping all the way to the floor. When he sucks in his next breath, it's through his nose, small nostrils flaring wide. If any part of him is hurt, it's his not yet fully developed sense of pride.

One of the first things a child of Dornie learns is what firearms do. He knows better than to play with one, never mind his father's, and yet—

Here they are.

A small, silver-coloured wolf with raised hackles is the next to barge into the office through the open door, black lips curled around flashing teeth, but Hush comes to an abrupt halt when he sees that Edmund and Ariel are the only two people in the room. He cranes his neck, looking up, and puffs out an irritated snort through his nose when he sees the chip taken out of the ceiling by the bullet.

He would probably try to reassure Edmund that his son is all right, if he could. He can at least inform Aislinn.

Ariel could be struck. Fortunately, Edmund hasn't gathered the higher faculties necessary to remove his belt from his waist and deliver disciplining lashings, busy instead untangling Ariel's hand off the pistol and letting him go. Only for long enough for Edmund to promptly dismantle the gun, his jaw growing harder as he does.

In pieces and on the floor, hands emptied then to better grip Ariel's forearms. "Do you know what you could have done?" he growls, low and severe, but his voice is swift to gain volume, momentum. "You could've hurt yourself. Killed yourself. Hurt someone else. What do you reckon guns are for?"

Behind him, Aislinn's frame fills a narrow section of the doorway. It's difficult but not impossible for her to quash the instinct that wants her to rush to them; Ariel is alive and whole, and regardless of what the boy might think, there are few places safer in all the world than crushed in Edmund's hands.

If he's hurting him— and that seems unlikely— it's out of love.

Her fingers find the door's edge and grasp it hard, knuckles gone as pale as Ariel's face. Hush whines lowly.

"It wasn't s'posed to," Ariel rasps out. Go off, he means.

Edmund's hands squeeze harder, briefly, but there is some part of him that stubbornly refuses to take his temper out on his child. Or rather, some part of him that is cautioning against it, knowing full well he could. He is furious, and Aislinn can feel that like a hand to held to a hearth, as well as his own strangling restraint, straining and breakable, and mostly made out of the desperate dread of what could have happened.

"You weren't supposed to have it at all! What was goin' on in your head? Saints dead and done, Ariel— "

There was a time when he was angry at her, too, for getting into danger, and she didn't even have a gun in her hand at the time.

"I was only looking," insists Ariel, though he refuses to meet Edmund's eyes when he says it, and maybe this isn't entirely true because he follows up with a very quiet, very heartfelt, "I can help, Da. I can."

Aislinn steps into the room and crosses to Edmund, not to separate him from Ariel, but to place a calming hand on his back between his shoulder blades. It's a show of solidarity, too. From the boy's point of view, his mother stands behind his father, her silence underscoring everything he says even if the worry on her face is gentler.

Staring at his socked feet, he asks Edmund plainly, "Are you mad at me forever?"

It's a frankly asked thing. On any other child, it might sound mincing and apologetic, maybe whining. Edmund knows and expects better. His nostrils flare at a breath drawn in and out, before his hands gentle. "I stay mad at men forever sometimes," he admits. "But you're but a boy." He twists around just enough to cast a glance up at Aislinn, than back at Ariel. "I'll not be seeing a gun in your hands until it's me that hands you one, when I think you're of age to need it.

"Agreed?"

Ariel means to say yes but finds himself unable to master even that single syllable. When he tries to locate his voice, the sound that comes out belongs to a newborn lamb.

Here come the tears. They were overdue.

The boy crushes his face against his father's chest and wraps skinny arms around his neck, seeking comfort in the familiar smells of Edmund's aftershave and what the wild leaves in the shag of his mane. Soon, his small frame is shaking with violent sobs.

Edmund collects him close, jaw tensing against the natural instincts that crest at the sound of his son's crying. Arms rope in the child in a more selfish indulging of wanting to keep him whole and intact and unhurt, and when his hand seeks the back of Ariel's head in a hold, long fingers and wide palm contrast the size between man and boy. It's a good thing, he tells himself. Fear of the weapon can be crafted out of him when he's good and ready.

It doesn't help much. He lifts Ariel off the ground as he stands, almost effortlessly.

Ariel is old enough that he has to hook his legs around Edmund's waist if he wants to be held aloft. A few more years and he'll be too big to be held this way at all. Hush presses against Aislinn's leg, offering reassurance, and she touches the tips of her fingers to the wolf's crown to thank him for it.

By now, others will have reacted to the sound of the gunshot, and she goes now to the door to receive the soldiers on-duty and explain to them that all is well.

Her son needs the time alone with his father.