He looked at her expectantly.
“Are you thinking of offering to help? Because I have to tell you, it will ruin your hands. You’ll never stitch a sampler again.” He looked round, as if assessing the damage. “There are companies I could hire, of course. But it wouldn’t sit well with the programme makers. The whole idea is to have the castle run as a business by itself.”
Holly drew a breath.
“How would you feel about employing a school leaver who is never in school because he loves being outside whatever the weather?”
“Mind you,” she went on, “I haven’t asked him or his mother. And he has no horticultural training. But I have the feeling that this kind of work, with a good teacher and a positive end in view, would be right up his alley. And his mother would be thrilled.”
“Sounds just the thing.”
Holly grinned. Hopefully, that was Ryan fixed.
It was a bright June afternoon, a sparkling day after the storm. The breeze was light and the air warm. Birds sang and leaves flickered in the sun, as though nothing bad could ever happen in a place like this. Although Holly loved the Lakes and her cottage there, she found she loved Dunskillen, too. She knew Scotland well enough, and had grown attached to Stirling, but she had only visited Dunskillen a handful of times. But there was something here, something in the air that spoke to her deepest feelings.
They walked slowly round the old tree’s root system, exclaiming at its size and trying to guess its age.
“Not quite as old as Bannockburn, whatever my father tries to make us believe,” Dan said with a smile, “but a good couple of hundred years. Maybe three.”
“It’s such a shame,” Holly said.
Dan shrugged, with a countryman’s acceptance.
“There’s a right time for everything, isn’t there?”
His eye caught something at the edge of the trough the roots had left behind them. He clambered into the hole, stooped, and lifted something from the earth.
“What do you think this is?” he asked, climbing back up. It was a piece of metal, tarnished with the dirt of ages. It was amazing he had spotted it.
He handed it over to Holly, who brushed the earth off.
“I think it may be silver,” she said. “It was lucky you spotted it. There seems to be some sort of design on it. Vaguely Celtic, I’d have said.” She turned it over. “It’s a brooch.”
“Badly dented,” Dan said. “I wonder what did that. I suppose it could have got damaged over the years under the tree.”
“Hmm.” Holly looked at the brooch, her imagination working overtime. “But if it was being worn at the time it was dented, the brooch would have saved someone’s life. Maybe a spear hit it and bounced off.”
They both smiled at the fantasy.
“Maybe the castle has more to do with Bannockburn than I thought.” Dan laughed. “My father will be pleased.” He looked at Holly and said suddenly, “You have it.”
Holly took a sharp breath.
“I couldn’t possibly. It belongs here, at Dunskillen.”
Daniel didn’t say, “So do you,” but it seemed to be understood.
The air sparkled, the breeze stilled, and the birds hushed. As Daniel reached out and touched her cheek, she knew that soon there would come a time when she belonged here, too. She put her hand over his, and together they stood in an intense and unexpected happiness.
The bright day expanded, the air was full of magic, and into the surreal silence came the soft jingle of harness, the clink of armour, and the whisper of distant voices.