The peace lasted two golden summers. Two summers of play, friendship, riding, and family bonding. Then Merida turned seventeen, and her mother brought up the notion of a matchmaker.
Merida did what any daughter well-trained in diplomacy would do – she stalled for time. And so autumn passed into spring, and spring into summer. Merida’s eighteenth birthday arrived, but this time Elinor dug her heels in, preparing an expensive and luscious feast for her daughter that was beguiling – and would hopefully spark up some sort of romantic attraction for her among the wannabe swains once more invading the kingdom. Merida had learned again to flee to the sanctity of the wilds, and only her father could soothe the friction forming between the two of them.
When he found her, she’d climbed a tall lonesome pine and was sitting there whittling arrows in silence. From this far up, Fergus could see more of his kingdom than he’d seen in years. The air was scented with pine, sea water and violet, and in the distance the orange-red glow of the bonfires lit for her birthday crackled on.
Fergus had no interest in the trappings; what he wanted was his daughter’s return. “Merida! What are you doing?”
A cloud of red hair peeped over the side of the tree. “Hiding,” she declared, and disappeared into the safety of the branches.
You’re going to miss the honeycakes,” he warned her, clambering slowly up the trunk of the tree to the sturdy branch she inhabited. It was quite a long trip, but somehow he managed to find her. The things he did in the name of the castle’s eldest daughter, he mentally mumbled, settling heavily nearest the strong base of the branch.
Merida sat moping beside him, hand tucked into her palm. “It doesn’t matter. I can’t do what mum wants me to do,” she said.
“Your mom’s not a wee dictator,” said Fergus. “Why, if you talk to her I suppose she’d be willing to hold off the ceremony for…maybe a few days.” He chuckled nervously, earning him a murderous glare from his daughter.
“I don’t want to be married. Not now and not ever!”
The passion in her voice startled Fergus. “You can’t mean that, lassie. Maybe if you wait another year the MacDonald boy will come into manhood and…”
“No, dad. It’ll be just like Dingwall and Fergal and all of the other boys I’ve courted,” Merdia hissed. “I’m just not interested in them. Or…any boy at all.”
This was far too much information for Fergus’ liking. “Are ye saying that you’d rather just stay single? Never have a wee family of yer own? No babes at your hips? No heirs to teach when you grow old?”
“I don’t care,” she muttered, prodding the base of the branch with her dagger. “I can always find a wee heir to foster if I wanted to have a babe.” But she couldn’t imagine herself a mother like her mother, swaddling an infant, cooing and singing to it. “There are lots of poor orphans in the village. We both know some mams don’t have enough milk to feed them.”
“Aww, c’mon lassie. It’s not all that grim,” said Fergus. Silence passed between them, and he understood that there was no easy way to turn her stubborn mind. Instead, he endeavored to support. “You know,” he added, sitting deliberately beside his daughter upon the log, “there’ve been a lot of fantastic unmarried queens. There was Boudicca, and Elizabeth of Ulster. Joan of Arc ran a whole army and nobody complained that she wasn’t married!”
“Wasn’t she burned at the stake?” Merida said.
“Well…” Fergus twiddled the end of his mustache nervously. “I won’t let anything like that happen to you! We aren’t in the dark ages anymore, y’know!”
“I know, dad,” she said, wrapping an arm around his bearish shoulders. After a hug, she said, “y’know, I am a wee bit hungry. I don’t suppose mom would hold dinner back for us.”
“Not when she’s this mad,” he said. Reaching for a limb to climb upon. “I trust ye, lassie. Wherever the kingdom goes in the future, I’ll be by your side.”
She knew – and knew she could trust him, permanently single or no.