The bustle in the hall rose and fell, men and women talked and laughed in conclamant clamour, and before Dirrald had brought Rosamound into the main area of the lodge, Eadmhaird had quitted hisroom. A few minutes spent lighting a small fire, pacing the length of the hearth, going over all his trophies and awards was all he needed to replenish his spirits and support his confidence. He enjoyed a few moments alone before a hunt, but once the fire was started and everything in his room gone over, the bed warmed, the sheets freshened with springs of dried lavender, the small stained-glass windows let open to revive the atmosphere and give a change of air, there was nothing to do but return to the hall and receive his acquaintances. There was the gentle nod, the easy salutation, a bow, a conscious look, a half a smile, but everyone who recommended their acknowledgement of him was offered the same courteous genuflection. A few of his lesser rivals passed him by, many of them with a few young woman in their grasp, being croodled and spoken to before being led off, and there were a few hunters who secretly skulked about the lower rooms with each other for company, which Eadmhaird noted with an arch smile, but whilst there were many otherwise engaged with their own affairs of conversation or congress, those who recognized Eadmhaird as Frewyn’s premiere hunter stopped to tell him how much they were honoured to see him.
“I hope you don’t win this hunt,” said one, bowing low and removing his hat. “I have ten silverweight running against you.
Eadmhaird bowed but did not stop. “I’ll try to make your horse’s loss entertaining, Deaules.”
The man humphed. “You said that last time and didn’t lose like you were supposed to do.”
“Aye, a shame I didn’t take your advice. I would have lost the hart and the three silver I had bet on myself.”
The man grumbled as he walked away, and Eadmhaird fleered to himself, thinking of how he had better place another wager on his own win for the coming event as well as place a few copperweight for Dirrald and Bhaunbher, when another of his ardent admirers sought to gratulate him.
“Ach, tis Cinmarragh,” a large man approaching spat, bowing and failing miserably, swaying back and forth with insobrietous steps.
Eadmhaird nodded and continued on, grinning to himself, counting down the seconds to some anticipated event.
“There y’are, waulkin’ awae an’ o’ like!” the man shouted, stabbing a finger at Eadmhaird’s back. “Ye thenk yer gonnae win again’ meh thess time, Cinmarragh, aye? Well, ye’ve got another theng comin’ if ye thenk Ahm gonnae let ye!”
“Eight…seven…six,” Eadmhaird counted in a whisper.
“Keepin’ yer back tae meh like! Is tha’ hou et is, aye, Cinmarragh? Ye thenk yer gonna win again’ meh? No’ thess time, Cinmarragh, ye bishtra houleigh--”
There was a hiccup and a loud thumping sound. Something slumped and scraped against the wall, the grating of metal on stone, the sprawl of heavy flesh fallen, the klink of pauldrons hitting the ground. There was silence and then a prolonged groan, and Eadmhaird laughed to himself.
“You can never hope to win against me, Connta, if you celebrate your victory before having gone through the effort of trying to conquer me,” Eadmhaird announed, turning onto the stairs.
A long and bellow snore reboated throughout the hall in reply. Someone demanded that Connta get up, another insisted that he be left there in a druken slumber, for with the hunt so near, he might sleep through the whole and allow everyone else who would otherwise be hindered by him during the hunt the chance at performing better. Connta must be left there, and the exsibilation of his guttural symphony, his tonituous reverberation rang tonitruous the halls, gathering the crosing sympathy of passing hunters who knew what it was to perpetually lose to Eadmhaird Cinmharrragh.
“May no one fault you for you lying there without a woman under you,” Eadmhaird smiled to himself, standing at the top of the steps. “Sleep is only deserved after a long day of venery, be it the hunt of animal or mate. To be unconscious from drunkenness becomes no man and betrays a poor sportsman.”
“Ach, ye sound liek a poem gone wrong, lad,” said a voice from behind.
Eadmhaird stopped and turned to find Eian, standing in the far corner. The old hunter, with his torn pelts, fur-lined boots, long grey hair, and sometimes toothless smile peeled himself from the wall and approached Eadmhaird as he was coming toward him with all the alacrity that seeing him again could warrant. “Good huntin’ at ye, lad,” said Eian, his grating voice abrading a bed of smooth tones.
“I’m glad someone is here to be an example,” giving Eian’s hand a hardy shake. “Connta will need someone to take his place on the line.”
Eian gave a firm pout and shook his head. “They’ll be no takin’ in it, lad. Ahm here as a spectator. Cannae be interferin’ when Ah’ve gone an’ retired from o’ thess.”
“A hunter never retires, old friend,” said Eadmhaird, in a glow of fondness. “He only turns to more challenging prey.” He watched as Eian’s eyes, obscured by a niveous mirk, study a woman as she walked by. “And there my point is made.”
“Ach,” Eian scoffed, “awae ye go wi’ yer taukin’ an’ yer funnae Glaoustre accent. Go oan soundin’ like yer voice was polished with a millin’ stone.”
Eadmhaird raised his brows and canted his head, and Eian turned aside, seeming half ashamed that his intentions had been descried without any effort at all on Eadmhaird’s part.
“Aye,” said Eian, after a pause, sighing and languishing, “Ah’ve got a bheann what Ahm lookin’ after th’ nou.”
“Do you, old man? It was only last hunt a few months ago you were chasing one in the village.”
“Aye, Ah was tha’, but tha’ didnae end well.” Eian averted his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. “Ah maed a daftae o mahsel’ when Ah had tae much o’ the house ale at the Harper’s Thrum. Ah mighta said sumthin’ tae her tha’ was no’ appropriate. She right thumped meh o’er the heid with the blunt bit o’ a tankard and thundered aff tae a man bigger than mahsel’. Ah put mah fut innit, lad, an she’s gone.”
“Ah, Eian,” Eadmhaird lamented, with a smile and a shake of the head, “always letting one escape your traps to hunt for another.”
“Aye, plentae tha’, lad,” Eian moped. “Ye jus’ hush up yer laughin’ whilst Ahm greivin’ o’er it.”
“You do not grieve long, old man, if you already have another who mends your heart.”
“Aye, she’s a rare yin, Ah teld ye,” said Eain, in a sudden thrill of wonder. “She’s the bheann tae end meh.”
“I wish you joy, old friend,” Eadmhaird laughed, “and I wish you luck. You will need it if you are prone to have women make love to you with violence.”
He raised his hand by way of a valediction and turned toward the stairs, but as he began to descend, Eian called him back again with, “An’ ye, lad? Yer Fremhin’s best hunter an’ yer no’ wantin’ a bheann?”
Eadmhaird smirked and looked sly, and turning back, he replied. “You do better than I could ever hope to do with women, my friend. Have all the women who would have you, and never mind my interests. If there is one whom I would give chase to, I should enjoy the hunt as I would any other, but I my quarries are never small.”
Eian grumbled something about folk from Glaoustre always being so enigmatic, being from the other side of the kingdom and knowing nothing beyond how to manage a dairy farm and run a church, and Eadmhaird simpered to himself, descending the stairs with two-fold complacence, one for having caught his mentor in the midst of his chase, and the other for cherishing his confidentiality, that high opinion of privacy which kept Eadmhaird safely out of many a woman’s thoughts.