"That's the last of it mother," Ceana said as she tugged on her mother's sleeve.
"Are you sure? I feel like we're still missing something," Caitir said as she looked around the humid kitchen.
"The roast, the stew, the pasties..." Caitir counted as she mentally checked off the course in her head.
"Mother 'tis time you need to get ready." Ceana pushed her trying to convince her mother to leave the kitchen.
"No, not yet-"
"Aye, I just saw Lady MacDuff strolling around the garden, we can't let her see you like this all a mess. 'Tis not usual for the Lady to be so long in the kitchen, you know."
"Oh dear..." Caitir said in disbelief with a worried expression.
"Come mother, I will get Beathag to draw you a nice bath so you can get ready. The Lady of clan cannot show up to her own feast underdressed."
Leora smiled as Ceana was pushing her mother out of the kitchen and up the stairs along with Beathag.
"How much longer until the feast?" Leora asked when Ceana returned to her beside the doorframe.
"Not much, a few hours or so, but we still need to get ready as well," Ceana said as she dragged Leora to her bedchamber.
"Will we put on elderberry?" Leora asked in excitement as they climbed the stairs.
"Of course, we'll have some female only time, I've never really had anyone else get ready with me except the maids. But we can help each other this time, since you're here," Ceana said as she retrieved some soaps and perfumes from her chests once they entered her bedchamber.
"What are we doing with those?" Leora asked as Ceana put them into a basket.
"Taking them to bathe of course, silly." Ceana put the basket down and laid both of their fancier dresses on her bed with matching accessories.
"Aren't we taking those?"
"No, we'll come back and put them on after we bathe, but here take any old clean léine. Just until we reach the bedchamber from the pond."
"The pond?" Leora asked. Leora had noticed that bathing was not a priority for many people, nor was it common to do so every day. But she was grateful that she had fallen into the hands of Scottish nobility, for if not she would not have been taking hot baths. Never had she taken one in the nature, not counting the time she was held captive for MacLachlan. She suspected that it was normal to bathe outside, not everyone could have the luxury she had.
She shook off the thought of the disgusting man and turned to find Ceana leading her to the door.
"It will be fun," Ceana said and the two girls escaped to the courtyard of the fortress. They walked into the stables where Ceana began to saddle her horse.
"Uhm, Ceana, you do remember that I do not know how to ride a horse, right?" Leora reminded the MacAlister girl who looked up in sudden bewilderment.
"Oh, I forgot about that. Well, I guess this is going to be so fun, aye?" Ceana looked at her and smiled.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we both can't ride side saddle on the horse or we'll fall off. So we will walk to the outskirts of the town and from there I will ride like a man while you like a woman." Ceana went picked up an extra blanket to put on the saddle so it would not chafe her inner thighs as she rode inappropriately.
"Are you sure? There is no other way?" Leora asked not wanting to risk the girl having to resort to such a measure.
"Aye, I am. There is no way I'm teaching you how to ride a horse now with so little time left. Just do as I say and I'll teach you another day." They exited the stables while leading Ceana's cream colored horse toward the town.
"Make sure you hold on tight to me, yeah?" Ceana helped Leora onto the animal when they reached past the town. A pang of excitement occurred as Ceana got onto the horse unladylike. It was the little rebellion of social customs that excited her and they both rode past the trees, disappearing in the woods.
"Do you know where we're going?" Leora asked.
"Of course I do, one should know where their secret hide out is, right?" Ceana said from in front of her.
After making their way through some bushes and trees deep in the woods they stopped at a small pond. After descending from the animal and helping Leora, too, Ceana went over to a tree branch and laid the clean léinte there while she dropped the basket of soap near the water.
Leora was hesitant on what to do, so she observed her surroundings. It was like a sanctuary in nature. Free from the smell of people and the heat of the kitchen, the smell of dew was still lingering in the air and the birds whistled lightly in the wind.
"Are you sure we're allowed to bathe here? What if we get caught?" she asked.
"Don't worry, I've done this thousands of times and never have I ever gotten caught. No one really would come here because there aren't any wild animals. No one would be here unless they were trespassing or looking to get away- which we are," Ceana said reassuringly.
She instantly started to disrobe while Leora began to reach for the bottom of her dress and lift it upwards to do so as well. Ceana was comfortable with getting undressed in front of her, but Leora was a bit hesitant to do so. Getting undressed so casually in front of other people was not something she was accustomed to, even though she has stripped to her undergarments in the girls' locker room.
Well I can't make this awkward.
Swiftly the dress came off, as well as the léine underneath.
"What are those?" Ceana asked as she eyed Leora's make shift bra and underwear, remembering that she had stripped them off of Leora when she had her period.
"Oh, these?" Leora said looking down at her chest, "These are just some undergarments that I'm used to wearing. I feel naked without them."
"Strange looking fashions they are, but at least they show you've improved your sewing skills," Ceana laughed. Leora slowly began to work at the knot that held her bandeau while looking at the ground. She had a hard time looking straight at the naked Ceana.
What am I doing? We both have the same body parts, I have nothing to be ashamed of.
She has nothing I haven't seen on myself before.
With that thought, Leora set aside her garments and began to approach the water.
"You know, I did think it weird when I first saw you naked..."
Leora froze at the words Ceana spoke. Her freckles began to disappear among the deep red that took over her face.
"Oh, no, no, no," Ceana reassured. "There is nothing wrong with your body, but rather I saw that you didn't have any hair under your arms."
"Shave..." was all Leora managed as she let out a nervous sigh and entered the water. At least it would serve as a barrier for her body.
"Shave?" Ceana asked in confusion.
"Back home I would shave my...armpits and legs," Leora said as her hands went to feel the prickliness on her lower limbs.
"Why would you do such a thing?" Ceana asked as if it was the most absurd thing she has heard.
There were many things Leora had to get used to since coming to the past. The historical fictions she had read had romanticized what life was really like. It was a tough wake-up call to live her life a totally different way. It made her appreciative of what she once had and took for granted.
Hygiene was not seen as the utmost priority to many common people, travelling was a pain since it took forever to get anywhere, seeing to nature's calling was quite a foul smelling and disgusting experience, deodorant had not yet been invented, and she would do anything just to have some pain reliever pills.
But also in this time period, beauty standard were quite very different. Leora had not thought of it before, but she did not have a razor to shave her legs for a silky smooth touch. Neither did she shave her armpits. No female did. Dresses were so long that they always covered their legs. Goodness gracious, should someone stumble upon a bare ankle!
It has only been in modern times that women had such a fascination for hair removal. Leora pictured the duchesses and countesses from her books and them having armpit hair under their ball gowns.
But is it?
Isn't it normal?
"'Twas the customs of my land," Leora answered hoping it would quell Ceana's curiosity.
"To rid of hair? Leora, the ways of your land are very strange." Ceana reached for a bar of soap and began to lather her arms. Leora reached for hers as well and smiled to herself.
Well, I guess that's one thing I don't ever have to worry about again.
"Shaving is not a custom here. You will find no man with a bare face, unless he is a boy. Men without beards are men without honor," Ceana stated as matter-of-fact as she lowered herself to sit at the floor of the shallow water.
"I've come to know this," Leora said as her thoughts lingered elsewhere. Ian's face came into her mind as she thought of the light amount of scruff that trailed from one ear to his chin to the other ear.
"On the topic of men," Leora continued, "I know what happened at the hunt."
Ceana paused and turned her attention to Leora.
"What? How?" Ceana eagerly asked as she stood up with a splash.
"Ian told me this afternoon when he came down to eat."
"When did he come to eat? After the men have finished?"
"Yes, he did come down like a sneaking raccoon trying to get away with some bits," Leora laughed.
"You saw him in the dining hall? What were you doing there?" Ceana asked trying to remember when Leora had left her side. Not wanting to get in trouble twice for potatoes, Leora evaded her questions and told her the truth from the early morn.
"MacAlister is the one who slaughtered it down," Leora mimicked a sword fighting motion as her hands were raised together over her shoulders came swishing down hitting the water with forceful impact. The large splash reached a great distance, soaking Ceana's hair as she flinched in response.
"My uncle? That's it? There has to be more to the story otherwise my brother wouldn't be moping around like he is," she said as she rolled her eyes and began to put the sweet smelling soap in her hair.
Leora bent over to dunk her hair in the water and then proceeded to scrub her scalp. Her mind drifted to her past conversation with Ian that they shared that afternoon.
"Who really hunted the boar?"
The question had taken him aback, it was unexpected. His hands stopped peeling the potato as he turned to face her. Her green eyes were searching his, looking for an answer that he could not hide. She would find out sooner or later. He preferred she'd hear it from his lips than from someone else's.
"My father," Ian let out as he looked at the bins on the floor.
"So you lost the bet, huh?" Leora turned to the peeler in her hands as her mouth scrunched in disappointment. She knew they had lost but hearing it from him made it worst. She held onto to a slight sliver of hope that maybe she was wrong, but the distress in his voice made that disappear.
"Rub it in, why don't you?" Ian eyed her with a frown. She twisted to him defensively, ready to apologize for her insensitive comment, but her eyes only saw his serious mien melt into a sad laugh.
"Leora, I'm just teasing. You don't have to take everything so seriously," he said as his index finger lightly touched the skin between her brows. Her expression began to ease into an embarrassed grin. Getting used to talking to him casually would take while.
"Is that the sole reason as to why Fionn won't talk to anyone?" She knew she had hit a nerve when he hesitated to form a reply.
"Kind of," Ian began. He wouldn't dare tell her what actually happened, how he was lost in his thoughts and careless of his actions. The thoughts that were filled with her. There could not be anything more humiliating.
He knew she was waiting for a response but did not want her to press on further.
"Fionn is mad because 'tis my fault we lost the bet. I hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before, so I wasn't alert enough. I missed my shot at the boar and my father had stepped in before things got..."
He left his sentence unfinished, hoping she would pick up on what he meant without him having to admit it. It was hard to hear himself admit it out loud, what could have happened. Yet he did not lie to her. He told her the truth. Even if it still was embarrassing on his part.
He had not gotten enough sleep the night before, because of her.
He had not been alert, because of her.
He had missed his shot, because of her.
But that was something he would never let her know.
She heard Ceana call out her name repeatedly, bringing her thoughts back to the current situation.
"What!?" Leora exclaimed as she straightened herself and flipped her hair back from the water letting a ripple effect of water droplets flying across the pond.
"Next time, pay attention," Ceana said smugly as she pushed the wet auburn haired girl into the water. After losing her balance from the surprise attack, Leora's body was plopped front forward as a cloud of dirt surfaced from the ground.
"Ceana!" Leora roared as she shot her head above the water gasping for air.
"If there is one thing I don't like, 'tis definitely being ignored," Ceana pouted.
"What were we talking about again?"
"Ian! Ian told you that my uncle caught the boar but you didn't explain-"
"Oh, right," Leora interrupted as she combed her wet hair to rid of any knots.
"So, Ian was telling me that 'tis actually his fault and...Ow!" Leora whimpered as she struggled with a large knot in her hair. Exasperated from her painful attempts she stomped out of the water to dry herself off and dress.
"Ugh, I will never get an answer from you," Ceana followed Leora out of the water. Once dried and clothed, she snatched the comb from Leora's hand.
"Let me do it, now start from the beginning. What did Ian say happened?"
Fionn awoke from his nap with a heavy head, he dreaded preparing for the feast. Raising his head from the pillow, the long purple garment that hung against the door caught his eye.
Where did Maon find this dress?
He propped himself up on one arm while he used his other hand to rub his eyes. As he leaned forward, he just stared at the female outfit that was laid out for him during his slumber. After letting out a heavy sigh, he got up and began to undress.
Maon must have picked these out beforehand. How would he have been able to get his hands on dresses this size so quickly?
Ha, so he knew we couldn't do it, aye?
Holding the oversize dress up before him, he couldn't imagine who the real owner of the gown was. He slipped the longer léine and then the dress over it. He felt as if he was drowning in a pool of fabrics.
Fionn's head shot up as he heard a knocking on his door.
"Who is it?" he said grumpily. He couldn't even answer the door dressed like this, how was he supposed to go down to the feast?
"Fionn, 'tis only me," Ian said softly as he opened the door a crack. "Please let me in, I know you're upset with me but I need you to hear me out."
"Alright," Fionn said as he opened the door just enough to fit Ian's body as he pulled his cousin in while swiftly closing the door.
"Fionn, I'm sorry about this morning. I'm sorry we lost the bet. I'm sorry I was careless. I'm sorry I almost died out there. But I didn't. I've learned from my mistakes." Ian couldn't help but rant on and on. Not talking was something he could not do any longer.
Waiting intently on an answer from his cousin, Ian stood nervously. However to his surprise, Fionn just burst in laughter.
"Fionn! This isn't funny! I'm being serious."
"'Tis not your words, Ian. 'Tis your appearance!" He continued to laugh. Ian had also gotten dressed for the feast in the oversized garment Maon had laid out for him.
"Fionn, forget about how I look. Listen to me!" Ian put his arms on his cousin's shoulder stiffly.
"Please, I'm still pure! Don't ravish me yet!" Fionn squealed in a high-pitched voice as he threw a hand over his face pretending to faint.
"Fionn!" Ian hissed.
"Sorry, sorry, I can't take you seriously," Fionn replied as his breath calmed down. Once it returned to its normal pace, he looked straight into Ian's expression.
"I forgive you, just to see you in this sight, I forgive you," Fionn managed.
"So this dress is worth my life?" Ian asked shockingly. "Well 'tis too bad you don't have my perspective, because you look just like your sister. I hope no one will mistake you for her twin tonight."
"You didn't just say that," Fionn's eyes narrowed.
"You're right, I take that back. Saying that you look like her would really be offensive to your sister," Ian said coolly.
"Fine, I forgive you," Fionn began snidely but then increased his volume. "Don't you ever do that again, understand? Mark my words, I will never don women's fashion EVER again!"
This time it was Ian's who was overcome with laughter.
"If we're going to dress up we might as well do it the best that we can." Ian then suggested, "If people are going to laugh why don't we really give them something to laugh about?"
Fionn's brow shot up in excitement and suspicion.
"What are you suggesting?"
"Is this good, or would you like it tighter?" Ceana asked from behind Leora as her hands were working to fasten the back of her dress.
"A little tighter," Leora replied as her hands were fidgeting with the pocket mirror on Ceana's side table.
"Alrighty, now turn around so I can see how you look. Oh you're just precious! Come, let's put on some finishing touches with elderberry and sweet smelling oils," Ceana said as she dug through her personal belongings.
"Aye, here 'tis." Ceana held up a bottle filled with a deep purple liquid as she reached for a small brush in the other hand. Leora's eyes widened in anticipation.
"I'll show you how I put it on and then you will follow." Ceana dipped the small brush into the viscous liquid and dabbed a small amount onto her lip. Using the pocket mirror to help her guide, she traced the edges of her mouth and left a vibrant fuchsia wherever the brush touched.
As Leora mimicked the dark haired girl's actions, she felt herself wobble a bit and created a jagged outline at the loud sound of bellowing laughter coming from the hallway.
"Ugh, I messed up." Leora sighed in frustration as Ceana's hands went to mend her err.
"My stupid brother, what has he gotten up to this time?" Ceana's curiosity peaked and she quickly gave the bottle and brush to Leora as she left her chamber. Without any further thought, Leora trailed behind her and they followed the sounds to Fionn's chamber.
"What do you think? Does it look like I've eaten too many pasties?" Fionn's voice trailed through the slightly opened door.
"Depends, do you have room to stuff another pillow down your dress?" Ian joked. "What about me? Do I look dressed to catch every man's eye tonight?"
"Depends, are you going for a regal Lady MacAlister or the King's whore?" Fionn spat back with a chuckle.
The girls could not believe the scene unfolding before their eye. The men who were supposedly older than they were practically getting ready just like they had, but somehow the situation was infinitely times more ridiculous.
"I wish everyone could you hear you both say that again," Ceana smirked.
"Ceana! Leora!" Fionn shouted as he tried to cover his body with his arms from embarrassment.
"What is it, Lady MacAlister? Or should I say the King's whore?" she teased.
"You're just jealous that all the men will be too busy with us tonight that none will pay you any attention!" Fionn gloated as he whipped his arms away for them to see their costumes.
Leora couldn't help but snicker, Fionn and Ian had stuffed some pillows and sheets into their dress to fill out the extra spaces. This definitely made them seem well-endowed in the chest and lower behind regions. However, it wasn't perfect, Fionn's right "breast" looked like it was going to fall out any second.
"Fionn, you're about to lose one of your breasts if you take any steps further."
He looked up at Leora who was heading straight for him after she had set down the bottle and brush she was holding onto a table. One of her hands went to push the pillow back into place while the other snaked behind his dress to pull it up more.
Fionn's breath stilled and his body in its entirety paused. His eyes were looking at her face, but her face was focused on his fake chest.
From where her right hand was placed, there was only a thin layer of the léine that separated her touch. He could feel a slight warmth where that hand was placed, but just as quickly as it came it then left.
"There, I think that looks more realistic." Leora stood slightly aback and witnessed her work.
Fionn let out a deep breath and began to return to his normal self, but not before Ceana stepped forward to look at the bottle of elderberry syrup Leora had just set up on a table. A cat-like smile appeared on her face as she held it out before the men.
"No female look would be complete without elderberry."
"No way!" Fionn scoffed.
"Why not?" Ian asked. "I thought we were going to go all out?"
"I'm beginning to dislike your ideas, Ian."
"Well, guess which genius thought to put this as the losing end of a wager?"
"Fine," Fionn admitted. "But Ceana you are definitely not putting it on me."
"That's alright, I like the idea of Leora putting it on you a lot more." Ceana chuckled as she handed Leora the bottle and brush.
"You know I'm not good at putting this on," Leora chided for only Ceana to hear.
"I know, that's the point," Ceana said trying to keep in her amusement.
Leora made her way to the seated Fionn, Ian saw the nervousness in his cousin's eyes, though it was subtle. Fionn hadn't expected Leora to paint his face, but he was definitely not protesting against it.
As soon as she sat down, Leora dipped the brush into the bottle and kept her eyes right on Fionn's lips.
"Please open your mouth like this," Leora commanded as she mimicked a slightly open mouth that she always had when putting on lipstick.
Fionn looked at her purple painted lips and opened his mouth instinctively. His heartbeat began to quicken as she closed the gap between them with her brush in hand and lightly dabbed the color on. As her hand moved back and forth, she quietly muttered to herself realizing she had gone over the boundary of his lip.
"What-" Fionn tried to ask her but she simply shut him up when she leaned her head closer trying to get a better look at fixing her mistake. His eyes could not escape her but his face grew hot with seeing how attentively she looked at his lips. The small strokes of the brush were gentle and soft and driving him mad.
Ceana could no longer keep her snickering to herself, it was too much to keep inside.
"Brother, there is no need to apply elderberry to you cheeks for they are practically red already!"
Fionn began to grow annoyed, when he had enough he swiftly turned to say something snarky to her. But his jerking movements surprised Leora and the brush she held to his mouth glided off the course of his lips and onto his cheek.
"Uh-oh," Leora let out as she observed the purple line that crossed the side of his face.
She screwed up again, though not entirely was she to blame.
And then Ian joined Ceana in laughter and it was really hard for Leora to keep a straight face.
Fionn snatched the pocket mirror Ceana held in her hand and observed the stains on his face.
"I've had enough of this horseplay!" Fionn was fuming red all over and stormed off to find water and a cloth to clean his face while he left the other three in a fit of giggles.
MacAlister turned his head at the sound of knocking on the door to his private parlor.
"Come in," he commanded.
"Ah, MacAlister, Maon passed word to me that you would like to see me," MacDuff said as he entered the room while closing the door behind him.
"Aye, please have a seat, friend. Have you found yourself and your Lady comfortable? Well-rested?" the Laird asked.
"Aye, your hospitality is unlike any other," MacDuff assured.
"I know you have come a long way with your men and wife, I want you to enjoy your stay as much as possible." MacAlister sat down before his comrade and said, "Do not hesitate to ask for anything."
"MacAlister, I know you are an ally, a friend, and one of the most honorable Lairds of our country. But to invite me and my people like this, there has to be some sort of reason."
"You're right, I have something to ask of you."
"Well by any means, I will aid you. You laid your life down for my father, bless his memory, I will do the same for yours," MacDuff said with an earnest expression. MacDuff was younger than MacAlister but older than his son. He wore many battle scars proudly and was just as vibrant has the ginger hair on his head.
"Thank you, MacDuff. I appreciate your offer and if I was heading to battle, I would definitely call upon you," he sighed. "Fortunately, the situation is much less of what you expected."
"What do you mean?" the younger Laird asked in confusion.
"Last month on our hunt we stumbled upon MacLachlan as his men on our territory. Amongst them was young lass, she was tied up like cow and treated even worse than one," MacAlister began. He went on to tell the story how they had rescued Leora and brought her back to their keep. He shared what their initial suspicions were of her and how they were trying to figure out who she was.
"Leora MacDuff," the younger Laird repeated as he combed his memory to think of any possible relatives. "And you said she only speaks English? 'Tis very strange for I have no relatives in that hell hole. Is her first name English? 'Tis definitely not Scottish."
"I figured it must be, I am not sure. Look, I just wanted to make sure if she was kin to you or not. If she has lost her memory, maybe she has forgotten her given name. You will see her soon at the feast, I encourage you to maybe talk to her a bit or see if she looks related to you at all, careful not to overwhelm her."
"Aye, will do," MacDuff nodded as he stood up.
"Thank you," MacAlister said as he got up as well and patted the younger Laird on the back guiding him to leave.
"Now, what do you say to a feast tonight, aye?"