It was too hot and she should not have worn the tight woollen dress for this day. Ma had suggested the lighter blue dress but the red always made her feel pretty. Children milled around the large cordoned off area at the top end of the field, their excited chatter and laughter filling the air. Rosie sighed as she scanned the crowds. There were no girls her age – or boys, for that matter. Those gathered were either older women and men or young ones keen to have a go at the variety of games and competitions the village elders had organised.
Suddenly a voiced called her name. ‘Rosie!’ She looked in the direction of the sound and saw Miri’s daughter, Keavy making her way forward.
‘Rosie,’ Keavy shouted in excitement. ‘You must come!’ The little girl flew at Rosie and pulled on her arm.
‘What is it?’ Rosie laughed as she was dragged along.
‘We are to do the three-legged race but Flea won’t have a partner.’
Flea? Rosie’s heart skipped a beat. She’d only met him twice but each time she had seen something in his eyes that promised so much more. She had not even considered he would attend the carnival. Her parents had spoken of Magness being reclusive and it never occurred to her they would attend something like a carnival. Why hadn’t she anticipated this? Still being pulled by the little girl, Rosie tried to tidy her hair with her free hand, pushing fly-away strands back into her braid.
‘Keavy, slow down!’ she cried as she tried to stop puffing. By now, Keavy was running, pulling Rosie behind her.
‘Come on!’ Keavy giggled lifting her skirts above her knees. ‘I'll race you. Ready. Set. Go.’ And the wee one sprinted off before Rosie had a moment to think.
‘That’s not fair!’ Rosie called after her and jogged along. ‘You're faster than me.’
She heard Keavy call before she disappeared into the small wooded area, ‘Not as fast as Flea!’ And then, she was gone.
Flea. Rosie stopped, put her hands on her knees and tried to catch her breath. She remembered the way he looked at her when they first met. Then the night they had visited Magness’s family he had sat close enough for her to feel the brush of his arm against hers as they laughed and talked around the fire. Her stomach took a sudden flip at the memory, her heart fluttering with excitement. How she’d dreamed of him. His soft blue eyes, his nervous glances at her…And now, she was to see him again! She walked toward the shaded crop of trees, smoothing down her dress and fussing with her hair. With all this running, did she look too wild? Breathe and be calm, she told herself as she walked toward the sounds of people working and laughing which came to her on the warm breeze.
‘Whao, whao, whao!’ cried a man’s voice. ‘Look out, lad!’ There was a loud tearing sound and a heavy thud as tent and uprights landed in a heap between the wagons.
Rosie walked forward and there he was. ‘Oh,’ she said, covering her mouth before she was noticed gaping.
Flea stood over the fallen tent. His tunic was tired around his waist and he worked bare-chested. Rosie stared, her mouth dry; her heart pounding. Magness stood there also shirtless but with a deep frown on his face.
‘How did that happen?’ Flea asked.
Magness kicked the post at his feet and a large piece of wood came away from it. ‘Ahh,’ he growled. ‘The thing’s rotten.’
Just then he looked up and saw Rosie. ‘Rosie, lass. Is yer father here too?’
‘Aye,’ she said, trying hard not to look at Flea’s naked chest. ‘Do you want me to fetch him?’
‘But what about the race, Rosie?’ Keavy cried.
‘Race?’ Magness began pulling up the canvas and Flea helped him. ‘Concentrate lad,’ he growled again and Rosie was pleased to see that Flea was paying more attention to her presence than the task in front of him.
‘Da, there’s to be a three-legged race and Rosie hasn’t got a partner nor has Flea because they are too big for the other children so they can go together,’ Keavy gasped all in one breath.
Both Magness and Flea stopped dragging the tent and stared at Keavy. ‘Well,’ Magness began. ‘I guess I can spare yer lad while I talk to Dougal about some wood for the uprights.’
Flea looked straight at Rosie and grinned. ‘You’d have me as a partner then, Miss Rosie?’ Her stomach leapt.
‘There’s no one else,’ Keavy pleaded. ‘Please Flea. Da?’
Rosie took in a deep breath. ‘Well,’ she said, sounding much braver than she felt. ‘I will have you know that I am fiercely competitive, Flea, so I am hoping you are as fast as Keavy boasts you are.’
Flea pulled the tunic from around his waist and put it on. ‘Aye, I am known to be good at some things,’ he said and she saw the delight in his smile and it warmed her heart.
‘Hooray,’ Keavy said, now tugging on her adoptive brother’s arm. ‘It is to start soon. We must go back now or we will all miss out.’
With Keavy between them, Rosie and Flea return to the main carnival. The wee child’s chatter was a welcome distraction. Rosie kept trying to push from her mind thoughts about Fleance which threaten to undo her. He was just a man. No more. She should not be so affected by his presence. But, truth be told, she was happy that he walked beside her; that he was so handsome and she knew, only the way a young woman can know, he was drawn to her also.
The gaggle of children and the colour of their costumes hit Rosie as they approached the starting arena. ‘You must tell the judges,’ Keavy said. ‘I have my partner and we have registered but you must go and say that you are a couple.’
Rosie’s heart jolted at the word but she looked up at Flea. ‘I will do that. You gather the ties and I will meet you anon.’
With her heart racing, she spoke to the master that there would be an addition to the race. The ruddy faced man looked at her and then over at Flea and grinned widely. ‘Aye. Yer father would be pleased then wee Rosie.’
Rosie tried to ignore the assumption but she was pleased others had noticed the potential for a fine match.
Flea, looking slightly out of place, held the ties and was searching for her. She waved at him and smiled and so did he. Rosie breathed out. Be calm, she counselled herself. Don’t fuss. But, with her heart giddy, the two of them secured the ties around her left and his right leg and stood waiting for the signal.
‘If you’re too slow,’ Flea said. ‘I’ll lift you and carry you myself.’
She did not know what made her but she thumped him in the arm. ‘Or, man, I might have to carry you!’
He roared with laughter and they missed the starting horn so a mêlée of children swarmed ahead and they were left trying to co-ordinate themselves.
Rosie could not stop giggling.
‘Quiet, Rosie,’ Flea laughed. ‘You are undoing me. And us.’ She tried to bounce along with him, his strong arm around her waist and hers around his but, they were too slow. ‘Damn it, woman,’ Flea cried, laughing and he picked her up, carried her on his hip and hopped all the way to the finish line.
They had not come last, thankfully but Flea did not let go of her when they crossed the finish line and they both tumbled to the ground.
Rosie laughed so much she feared she might embarrass herself. They lay there in the hot morning sun staring at the rich blue of the sky above. She thumped her hand gently onto his chest. ‘You made us lose,’ she told him, feeling completely at ease.
He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. ‘You made us lose, dear Rosie, for being too unprepared. But I am pleased we were partnered, never-the-less.’
‘Me made us lose?’ she said sitting up awkwardly. ‘I was doing everything right but you are uncoordinated.’
Flea was lying on his back holding her hand, as the noise of the laughing children surrounded them. His eyes were closed and he wore a slight grin. Such thick dark lashes, Rosie thought.
He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. ‘You were slower,’ he said quietly, ‘and, I could not lose you, Rosie so I held back.’ Flea rolled over and looked at her a moment, melting her heart.
Fleance leant over her, then, and kissed her.
Rosie knew at that moment she had fallen hopelessly in love.