The doctor had been impressed by just how much of the infected skin Airril had been able to remove. Merida had finally gotten a look at the gaping hole in the sole of her foot, and though she'd felt the urge to be sick, she was partly relieved that it was on the way to mending. She'd been told there would probably be a few months until she could walk on it again, but her fast-healing body, used to injuries, and her stubborn mind assured her it would be sooner than that.

She now sat in her own bed, the covers tight around her, comfortable in the chemise she'd slept in, her favourite bow in her lap as she unconsciously carved patterns into the wood. Her mind was else where, and every so often she would glance out of her open window and wonder what was happening in the world below her. She'd been told clans MacGuffin, Macintosh and Dingwall would be staying for a few more days, though she hadn't seen them. She hadn't seen Airril either, but she had a basket at the end of her bed full of fresh apples to remind her he was there, waiting for her to leave her quarters so he could see her again. He'd made sure to send her a whole basket every morning with breakfast.

Her brothers had also sent her presents, though they'd been delivered directly from them. They'd brought large plate of pastries and helped her eat through them only hours before.

"Merida," her mother's voice called her and she looked up to the door, where Elinor was watching her with a sad smile.

"Mum," Merida made to clear room for the woman, and Elinor took a seat beside her daughter, covering her own legs with the blankets and moving the bow out of Merida's lap to give her daughter a gentle hug. It was the first time the ladies had had time alone since Merida's return.

"Are you sure, darling?" the queen's voice asked. Merida did not need to request a clarification.

"Yes," she murmured. "I've made a promise to the Macara clan, and Airril, and I intend to keep it."

"But you were so against all of this before you left."

"But I didn't know Airril. I realise now how self-centered I could be at times. I feel like...with Airril, I'll be grounded. When I'm with him, I feel like an equal, and that's never happened before."

"An equal," the queen repeated with a small laugh. "There's definitely some truth in those words. I never thought I'd see someone who shared your personality."

"Has he been a nuisance?"

"Not at all." Elinor insisted. "But just by speaking to him, I can see why you bonded so well. He's very fond of you."

"I know," the small smile that graced Merida's lips was not forced.

"You'd better watch over him, though. I think Maudie's got her eye on him."

"Mum!" Merida threw her head back and laughed.

"Well, we did put him in a room right beside her own. I'm sure they've had bonding time in the hallway."

Merida laughed again, then fell silent, her eyebrows pulling together with a small amount of worry. "What does dad think of him?" her true question wondered what Airril thought of her father, but saying something like that to her mother would not be easy to explain.

"To be perfectly honest, Merida, we don't see a lot of him. He hasn't joined us for a meal yet, and he disappears a lot of the time. I think once you join the world outside he'll be closer with us, but now, it just seems like he doesn't feel at home."

Merida wondered if she should tell her mother, and the answer was obvious. She would not keep secrets from her any longer. "Airril blames dad for the way his life turned out. After his mother died, he and his sister lived with their father, but he was called to fight in one of Dunbroch's wars. He didn't come home, and Airril's sister was given to another family while he was forced to work on the clan's ships."

Elinor's voice was quiet. "How old was he?"

"Ten,"

"My goodness,"

"He'll come around, mum, when he realises that wasn't dad's intentions."

"We can only hope." Elinor said with a sigh. "But what about you, dear? Are you truly willing to throw away your freedom just to keep the Macara clan happy? I'm worried about you."

Merida was sure of the answer she gave her mother. "I'll find freedom elsewhere,"

}~*~{

The room they'd given Airril was spacious, but empty. There was naught but a comfortable bed, a chest of draws and a window. He longed to go and make sure Merida was alright, but knew it was not right for him to step foot into her room, despite how close they had become during their time away from Dunbroch, so had taken to walking to the sea to distract his thoughts instead.

The sun was setting now, and he'd taken a seat on the windowsil, curling his legs to his chest in the small space as he leaned his forehead against the glass barrier.

The door creaked open behind him, and he turned his head, quickly rising to his feet when King Fergus walked into the room.

Fergus waited for a bow, or a nod, or a simple "Your majesty," but it didn't come. He tried not to let on that he was amused by the boy's ignorant attitude and sat on the foot of the bed.

"Airril,"

"Yes?"

Fergus let out a low chuckle. "You seem threatened, boy. Whatever's in your mind?"

Airril kept a wary eye on the man in front of him and continued to stand. "Are you here to tell me you don't want me to marry your daughter?"

"Would you like me to tell you that?" the king seemed confused, which calmed Airril.

"No,"

"Well, I wouldn't like to say such things either, lad. It's not every day Merida's claiming her love for someone, you know."

"I doubt she loves me."

"Well, if it isn't love, it's going to take me a long time to figure out what's gotten into her. I can't set a foot in that room without her asking about you."

A small smile tugged at Airril's mouth, and he lowered himself to sit on the stone floor, still watching the king. "Is her foot healing?"

"It's going to take time, but yes, it is."

There was a long silence and Fergus cleared his throat. "Was there something you wanted to say to me? You looked ready to talk earlier."

"I've been angry at you for a long time." Airril said honestly. "You're the reason my father died, and I promised myself I would have my revenge some day. But now I don't wish to find a way to punish you. Not when you've given me your daughter."

"I'm sorry for any pain I've caused you." Fergus told him after a hesitation, not asking for an explanation. "It's not my intention to ruin any family."

"I'm going to try to understand that."

They watched each other for a long time, and Fergus was the first to speak again. "Is there something, or someone, you'll be turning your back on by marrying my daugher?"

The ocean called to Airril and he closed his eyes. "Yes,"

"What can I do to help that?"