Grey stone and whitewashed wood made up much of the MacEibhir's horse barn and breeding stables, the exterior at least. The interior was seldom complete without the presence of one Donncha MacSiadhail: part groom, trainer and handyman.
"They've done it again." Donncha gave a silver haired man a grin full of crooked teeth, quite amused with whatever information he had that the other did not.
Ruairí MacEibhir returned the grin with a lazy one of his own, dark eyes filled with curiosity, "Who is they and what have they done again, friend?"
"They be the younger images of yourself and what they've gone and done has your fiery wife in a fix or two." Said the stableman, speaking of Ruairí's children who have no doubt been into mischief. Again. As always, seeing how they've yet to manage that thing called growing up.
"Ara, they're just lads," said Ruairí, dismissing the little man out of hand.
"Lads with boxed ears, I'd bet." He giggled, high-pitched and giddy, causing nearby stalled horses to join in with nickering of their own.
The púca winced despite Donncha's cheerful delivery of Máire's reaction. His wife was a strong woman and with a strong temper. "How mad is she and what exactly have the three of them done?"
"Only the oldest two for this one. Tadhg's still at the church giving that priest a fit of his own." More giggles that turned into a hoot of laughter. The MacEibhir brood were a constant source of amusement for MacSiadhail.
"Well...from the way your wife was a hollering it must have been something like this..." Donncha settled himself atop a bale of hay, making himself comfortable as he prepared to tell his tale, a deck of cards in his hands to occupy restless fingers.
"Ruairí?" A dark-haired young man of indeterminate age hissed his brother's name from the crook of a tree branch where he was precariously balanced.
Not lifting his head but rolling his eyes skyward, a boy of nearly identical looks smirked. "Anrai."
"Get up here!" Anrai hissed a bit sharper, waved a hand and nearly fell for the effort.
Enjoying the spectacle and the opportunity to be difficult for difficulty's sake, young Ruairí MacEibhir shook his head. "What for?"
"I've an idea." This was nothing new; the eldest brother often had ideas, some better than others. Most of them usually required an accomplice or two and that worked out just fine in his mind seeing as he had a pair of brothers.
"Better than my idea?" Ten years younger and arguably ten times more rambunctious, Ruairí always had to counter anything his brother came up with.
"What's your idea?" Anrai was suspicious on two fronts: that Ruairí hadn't an idea at all or that he might have one better than his own.
Younger, perhaps, but no less crafty than his sibling, Ruairí wouldn't give anything away. "Not telling, you'll steal it."
"Fine. Will your idea get us kisses from the lovely Shannon McBride?"
"Then get up here already." Exasperated now, Anrai shifted and gestured to the bow he was lying across. Either get up in the tree or go away seemed to be the unspoken message as his mirror image debated briefly the matter at hand.
Very briefly, there were kisses to possibly be had here and that trumped being a difficult pain in his brother's arse any day. "What's that there?" Ruairí asked once he'd scampered up the trunk of the tree and over to his brother's side.
"Mistletoe." Anrai dangled the green and white bunch of foliage just in front of Ruairí's face, about eye level.
"Get that away from me. Put it down before I have to kiss you." Panic laced his words and he managed to flatten himself against the tree's trunk to get some distance between him and the plant.
"Don't be disgusting. I'd sooner kiss..."
"Margaret Mary Connelly," Ruairí supplied the first suitable name that came to mind before Anrai could come up with something insulting to offer.
"True enough..." he gave a wistful sigh, "She slapped me for trying, you know."
"I know." Anrai chuckled, Maggie May hadn't slapped him when he'd made an attempt.
"Think Shannon will slap us?"
"No. She's too sweet. And kind."
"And soft. And she smells so..." He trailed off at Anrai's irritated look, no sense of the romantic, his brother.
Oh but Ruairí would wax poetic about every lass in County Galway if you let him, best to cut him off early. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"Nothing, I just like the way she smells is all."
"Be quiet, here she comes. Mam's supposed to be giving her some baking to take home. That's how I knew it'd be Shannon we'll be kissing."
"I'll be kissing." Young Ruairí declared with certainty, cheerfully adding at Anrai's glare, "You'll be holding that mistletoe over her pretty little head for me. You really are a grand brother."
"I'll give you a grand wallop--there she comes now," Anrai suddenly changed tracks, his voice softening as he called out to the lass, "If it isn't the lovely Shannon McBride, prettiest girl in all of Carraroe!"
Ruairí stifled a snort, just last week it was Peig Ó Ceallaigh his brother had declared the prettiest and the week before that, another girl altogether
Confused as to the source of the voice calling her name, Shannon looked about to the left and right, her dark curls bouncing with each turn of her head. It wasn't until she found herself standing under the tree that she heard both the creaking of branches and the low whistle from one of the brothers MacEibhir that she tipped her head back and looked up, puzzled. "God and Mary to you, Anrai and Ruairí. Whatever are you about up there?"
She hadn't noticed the mistletoe.
Anrai, ever direct, gave her a cheerful grin and dangled his prized stalk a bit lower just as Ruairí let himself drop to the ground. "Waiting for you, lass."
"God and Mary to me, indeed, seems I'm about to be blessed with the sweetest of greetings." He pointed upwards, indicating the mistletoe and ignoring Anrai's unhappy scowl. "Tell me, Shannon, d'ya know what that is?"
"Of course I--oh! You rascals. And sneaks." It was no secret to most in Connemara that the sons of Máire and Ruairí MacEibhir were spirited at best and pranksters at worst. That Shannon now had her hands on her hips and her lips were curved down instead of upwards in her customary smile were a sure sign that she was all too familiar with the best and the worst of them. "I won't be kissing either one of you today."
"How about tomorrow?" Cheerfully offered by Ruairí as he dropped to the ground, making the feat into a grand gesture with a flourish of hands and a small bow in Shannon's direction.
"Now Shannon, it's practically set in stone where mistletoe is concerned. Tis bad luck to not follow through. You wouldn't wish that on us or yourself, would you now?" Anrai propped his chin on one fisted hand, the other busy dangling the mistletoe over the girl's head.
"Of course she wouldn't, Anrai, don't be daft." He moved to stand beside Shannon, reaching up to redirect Anrai's hand and set the plant between himself and the blonde.
She backed up, shaking her head. "The only bad luck I've got is coming across the pair of you."
"She'd rather we be alone, brother. Leave that with me..." Ruairí made a grab for Anrai's prized possession, undeterred by Shannon's verbal jab.
The advantage of being still in the tree was height, and Anrai sat up, moving out of his brother's reach. "Get your own if that be the case, brother."
"I'd rather be on my way, is what I'd rather." With that, she turned to leave; taking a step towards the robust stone house that had been her destination in the first place.
"Then give us a kiss and be about your business." Ruairí made one more attempt, his voice taking on a diplomatic tone.
Climbing down the tree and sounding a bit more desperate, Anraí added, "Yes, kiss us." It was -his- plan after all; he wanted it to succeed.
"On one condition." Exasperated and clearly seeing no other way out of this, Shannon placed her hands on her hips and looked at each of the young men in turn.
"Name your terms, fair lady," agreed one.
"Anything you wish," added the other.
"Close your eyes, no peaking." Shannon smiled herself, a coy little curve of her lips, as she came to stand squarely between the two. "One kiss, the both of you." She pressed a finger to her right cheek and then her left.
It wasn't quite what Anrai had had in mind, he wanted a taste of soft, sweet lips, but he wasn't about to argue. A kiss was a kiss and so he did as he was told and closed his eyes. Ruairí did likewise, figuring she'd change her mind and give him a proper kiss after. They leaned in, and down, to account for the height difference with Shannon, and came nose to nose with each other instead of the pretty little lass.
Shannon had ducked and taken two steps backward, letting the brothers kiss each other square on the mouth.
"Augh!" That was Ruairí, standing up straight and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Anrai spat on the ground. "Ugh, I've been poisoned."
"I told you to watch where you've held that stuff!" Ruairí knocked his brother's hand away, the mistletoe with it.
"Eck!" Anrai was still making a show of being ill.
"Let that be a lesson to you, trying to trick me into a kiss. Just you wait until I tell your mother..."
"Mam? Oh, no...no you needn't." The threat of Máire's anger was enough to cure the elder lad of his shenanigans.
Ruairí went wide-eyed and took Shannon's hand as he began to plea. "No, you really needn't. Kissing Anrai is punishment enough, believe me."
"Ara! What is that supposed to mean?" Insulted, Anrai cuffed his brother on the back of the head which led to the two quarreling intensely enough that Shannon McBride left them to it and made good on her threat.
"...then the lass went on her way with the baking from your Máire's kitchen and when the boys turned up a short while later, there was more than a hot meal waiting for them." Donncha had to wipe tears from the corners of his bright eyes, his merriment causing just that much laughter.
For his part, it was clear that Ruairí wasn't sure if he should laugh or be perplexed at the situation. "Mo Mháirín is in a state over -that-? I'll have to speak to them, I suppose." Young fools, were his sons, Ruairí himself had long, long ago mastered the art of sneaking and bestowing unwanted kisses on the fairer sex. "They didn't even manage a single kiss for the lass between the two of them."
This brought even more laughter from Donncha. Certainly the talking to Máire had in mind was far different than the one her husband intended to give. "Oh, she did say that she'd be bringing the matter to you to handle." Why enlighten the fairy man when this would doubtlessly bring more entertainment once he botched the lesson for the lads?
MacEibhir nodded his head once, assured in himself and his wife's judgment in passing on the responsibility to himself; after all he was their father and who better than he to address the matter? Ruairí adjusted the tam he wore perched on his head and offered Donncha a hand down from the stacked hay the other man was lazing about on--there were horses to be fed and other matters to attend.
As the two worked for a time in companionable silence, Ruairí began to think things over. He wasn't the cleverest of men, slow to learn new things at times, but he did have a sound memory. Horses and equine fey having the quality in common, lessons learned were seldom forgot. "Donncha..."
"Hm? Having a thought, are you?"
"What's that like then?"
"You'll never know."
Once he finished laughing at his joke being turned back on him, Donncha asked, "What's on your mind, o' thinker of thoughts?"
"I'm thinking my wife isn't wanting me to encourage the lads in kissing Shannon McBride." He rubbed his jaw in remembrance of the first kiss he gave Máire.
"Likely not, no." Donncha agreed.
"I'm also thinking I'd like to know where that mistletoe has gotten itself to." He gave his friend a wink and a smirk.
"Funny you should ask," Donncha turned and nodded to the peg-lined wall where the horse tack was kept. "What else are you thinking, Ruairí?"
"That," Ruairí's grin broadened as he thought of his plan for the plant, his wife and himself, "Is none of your business."