The freshly-sharpened chisel and small hammer offered no tricks or shortcuts, so he spent the next hour carving the stone and refining the edge to fit into the wall. His sweat had become coated with stone dust, making his skin gritty and itchy.
Once he’d dressed the stone, he brushed the stone dust away and surveyed his success. Then, after a quick glance around, he lightly lifted it into place with his magic, taking a moment to wipe down his face and hands. With a long-suffering sigh, he sat at the fourth stone.
Before he finished the last stone, the sun had dipped considerably lower in the sky, behind the dappled canopy of autumn trees. He ran his fingers along the fine cracks as Sétna had, marveling at the fine work he’d finally achieved. For two years, he’d practiced under his stepfather’s exacting tutelage. While Sétna remained a tough taskmaster, he taught well. Conall brushed away another coating of dust and smiled, proud of his work.
With a quick glance at the lowering sun, he gathered his mason tools and wrapped them in the leather-strapped bag. He’d better hurry if he wanted to meet Lainn at the crossroads.
The half-hour walk along the edge of the bog offered him little challenge, as he’d been exploring this area for many years. They hadn’t been born here but had moved when his father found the great fishing in An Bhóinn, the river which ran past the ancient bogland. Conall didn’t remember why they’d left his previous home, as he’d been too young to know much beyond their move. His sister, Lainn, had only been a baby.
While she’d been a merry, laughing child, his little sister grew more annoying with each year. He had been heartily grateful when the druids had accorded her the signal honor of studying with them. Every day, she spent time in their oak grove, learning histories, songs, and chants. She’d used this new knowledge to torment him often, though he wouldn’t let on how interesting he found the tales. If she realized he actually enjoyed them, she’d instantly stop.
He spied her dark auburn curls bouncing as she jumped, trying to reach a yellow apple which hung from a low branch. He chuckled at her predicament and reached above her, calmly plucking the prize and taking a big bite. The last two years of growth meant he towered a full foot over his younger sister. He’d seen seventeen winters, but she’d only had sixteen.
“That’s my apple, Conall! You’ve no right!”
He shrugged. “T-t-taller people get the better apples, Mouse. Height is right!”
“You know I hate that name! Give it!”
When she kicked at his shin, he skipped back, holding the apple above his head and out of her reach. “You can’t catch me!”
She growled and charged him as he laughed and ran. He spied another apple and picked it as he skipped by so she’d have a treat when she tired of chasing him.
Lainn came close to grabbing his Maelblatha, so he put on a burst of speed. It would do no good to let her win. He wove through the trees, zig-zagging until even he panted for breath. When he finally stopped near a small stream, she limped up, her freckled face red and sweating.
Conall offered the second apple as a peace offering with a wide grin. His sister growled at him before snatching it from his hand. They crunched the sweet fruit in silence as the trickling brook sang in the evening air. Bees buzzed around them, making Conall swat one away from his face.
“Don’t hurt him!”
He blinked at his sister. “Him? Blood and bones, Lainn. It’s a bee, not a p-p-person.”
“You should be kind to bees. Adhna says so.”
“Adhna’s madder than a drunken hare, Lainn.”
She shrugged and took a final bite of her apple. “That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Are you done yet?”
He tossed his core into the stream. “Sure. Ready to go home?”
She gave him a sly smile. “Not yet. I made a promise. Follow me!”
As she ran off to the north—the opposite direction from their home—he rolled his eyes and ran after her. He’d worked hard all day and had little energy or patience for his sister’s antics. He realized her education with the druids must be less physically demanding than his own training as a mason, and she still had the endless energy of youth. With a groan and a protest from his aching leg muscles, he felt every one of his seventeen winters as she led him on a merry chase through the glades.