With comb and bristle Peig was trying to tame the curly mane, but sure it was as wild as the head on which it grew, and the mouth that lived under it. Arra she may as well be trying to plait the scrubby gorse on the hillside above, for all the taming that she could achieve.
A clatter in the courtyard below had the child hopping up, again, and away before the old hands could get a grab of her. Peig was sore tempted to just give up and let her run off with that tangled bush atop her skull, but her mother’d be having kittens at seeing her like that, again, and especially on a day that Dubhdara was due home, and away again right after. Sure the poor man would hardly get time for a dinner before he’d be setting off for Spain on the evening tide.
The child at the window caught a glimpse somehow through the narrow arrow slit of what she was waiting for, and she hared out across the room before old Peig had even a chance to catch a hold of her. Dragging back the great oak door, she was out and away, followed only by the dismayed wail of her nursemaid, and with her still tangled mane streaming out behind her. Somewhere down the hallway, the useless comb dislodged itself and dropped to the flagstone floor in her wake.
She was fast as the wind, but still by the time she scooted down all the steps and corridors of her father’s castle, the men were already inside in the hall with the doors shut. Shane Mor stood guard outside, and he pretended not to know her when she fetched up in front of him, out of breath and outraged to be kept from her Daddy, here at the last hurdle.
He wouldn’t let her through until she delivered him a swift kick in the shins for his messing. Laughing and hopping, he opened the doors so she could barrel across the hall and begin asking her father if she could go to Spain with him. Surely this time she’d be let. She knew her way well around the ships, and all the skills she’d need, and it was well past time for her first long journey.
Margaret O’Malley was aghast at seeing the little harpy that hurled itself through the hall to land at the feet of her husband and begin to pester for a sea voyage. That hair! Sure she couldn’t do a thing to make a noble lady of her only daughter, but she had to keep trying and that was that. Scooping the girl up, she ignored the threshing and screaming, and apologised to her husband.
She carried Grace off, scolding her that girls did not go to sea, not ever, and she’d to go right back to Peig to get her hair dressed and fit for polite company. She returned to the hall and she scolded her husband too, for indulging the girl and playing on with her flights of fancy. A girl at sea indeed - sure where did they think they were going with that one?
Dinner was served up and the men fell to eating, talk moved forwards and plans were being made for the Spanish trip. Then the doors opened again and Shane Mor walked through, and sure they knew something was up because he was supposed to be staying outside, and he couldn’t keep a straight face besides. He announced the arrival of a new sailor, a crop haired wee thing who he was sure would do well at sea.
In strutted Grace with her hair all shorn off, and well dressed in boy’s clothes. That was the day that Grainne Mhaol – ‘Bald Grace’ – earned her first sea journey, and went on to many adventures as the Pirate Queen of Ireland. But sure, they are all stories for another day.
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