Prologue:

The wooden planks creaked beneath her shoes. She raised the skirts of her carmine dress as she moved with closed eyes and a soft second soprano voice.

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine…"

Wildflower honey curls shimmered at her shoulders as sunlight on a summer evening, and her dress cascaded to the wooden stage with grace. She breathed in the dust of the dark corners behind the dense velvet curtain and closed her tawny eyes.

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…"

She clasped scanned the script of Hamlet and rested her eyes where her first lines were. They were close. She lay the papers aside and made her way around the curtain.

. . .

The crowd streamed through the opera house doors and pooled outside beneath the stars. Liam perceived the sweetness of her voice ahead as she greeted the people leaving. A glimpse of her carmine dress here and sound of her voice there helped him realize where she was when he emerged into the crisp air. She was surrounded by chattering people, and a street vendor with a basket of single roses passing behind her caught his attention. He squeezed toward the man to ask their price and paid it before picking out the deepest ruby rose ready to open and returned to the girl.

"Miss," he called as he elbowed his way through the gathered people. His vocal chords seized when she moved the soft curvature of her visage to him and met his eyes with ochre ones. He swallowed and continued, "Excuse me, Miss. Y-you made a beautiful Ophelia. The m-most brilliant I've ever s-seen."

He reached the rose out to her, and she accepted it with rosy cheeks. "Go raibh maith agat," she smiled in return and held out her hand. "Aoife Sweeney."

"Liam McCallister," he knew he was one of many adorers of this young actress and realized as he shook her hand that he must do something to have her remember him, so he raised her hand up to his lips and kissed the back of it. Blood rushed to his cheeks and he cleared his throat with a respectful "M'lady" before disappearing amongst the gathered people again.

The redness of his cheeks never diminished as he drove home beneath the moonless night of abundant glittering stars. He arrived at the door of his house to his mother screaming and several shouts. He shouldered the door open and rushed to the attic staircase, where the shouts originated.

"What happened?" he demanded to Rearden, who appeared moments before him. As he asked, Calder came rushing down the stairs with a bleeding mouth and a swollen eye, Cairbre at his heels.

"I am not staying here! I cannot live like this anymore!"

"Eagan is the one to leave!" Cairbre shouted after him.

"Then we both will!" Calder stormed past their mother, who reached to check his eye as he approached. "I will be back to get what's mine tomorrow."

As they disappeared, Rearden peered at Liam. "Eagan beat Calder," he answered, and rushed up the staircase. After one look over his shoulder at the rest of their gathered brothers, Liam started up the creaking stairs behind him.

"Where are you gonna go, Eagan?" Rearden asked.

"Away."

Liam emerged into their shared attic to see Eagan stagger across the wood to snatch a couple possessions out of the dresser drawer as Rearden watched. There was a cricket bat near the stairs, and blood stained his strawberry hair. Liam remained against the back of the room, beside the exit.

"You have nowhere to go!" Rearden hissed angrily.

"Anywhere else!" Eagan shouted and stormed toward the stairs. Rearden moved ahead of the stairs and caught his sleeve as he attempted to pass, and Eagan trembled with rage as he met his eyes.

"Let me go," he snarled.

"I am never going to let you go," Rearden snarled in return. Eagan shoved him aside and rushed down the stairs and scattered the rest of their brothers. Liam sneaked his eyes to Rearden. His chest rose and dropped rapidly as he seethed. But as Liam started to leave, he met his eyes. "Are you all right?"

The sea of emotions Liam arrived in was now in torrents. He stopped and pointed abstractedly across the attic. "I'm gonna go see if I can paint something."

His muscles trembled as he creaked open one of the dresser drawers and removed his oil paints and supplies, and then delivered them to the corner between one of the bunk beds and the window.

His heart rattled with its pounding in his chest as he attempted the preliminary sketch of her visage. All the piercing anxiety and sleepless nights he experienced since he was sixteen iced him, but there was a warmth in those amber eyes that made his heart alive again.

By the time his paints were smeared on his wooden pallet and horsehair brushes lay beside the water containers, his brothers had crawled beneath their covers. The crisp late autumn air coasted into the attic and chilled Liam, but he swirled his brush in the ochre and amber paints to color the eyes he penciled onto his square of canvas. But the warmth in her eyes could not be matched by the paint. Time after time, he adjusted the colors, but to no avail.

He cursed beneath his breath and cast aside the painting, resting his elbows on his knees and running his palms over his golden hair. His heart hastened with hummingbird speed and he strove to steady his breath. He raised his emerald eyes to see Rearden peering down at him on his top bunk.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he murmured.

Liam tipped the back of his head against the wall and peered out the window with misted eyes. "I'm in the same state as I always am."

That said, he rose and prepared to put away his supplies so that he could crawl beneath his own covers and deal with the anxiety sure to plague him all night.