It turned out that joy and beauty revealed themselves in the strangest of contexts. Perhaps, Declan should have been upset that his father was trying the same tired old tropes to provoke a conflict, but all he could feel was a bubbling sense of happiness. His Farren was confidently holding her own, letting him know that they were a team. He noted her little glances and how she kept on checking in with him to make sure he was okay.
Warm and caring weren't usually words people used to describe Farren, but clearly the world didn't see and understand her in the same way he did.
Declan offered a warm smile in response, uncharacteristically relaxing into the situation. He might not be in control of what was happening, but Farren and he were in sync with each other and therefore could handle anything that life was about to throw at them.
He couldn't help a charmed laugh as Farren chatted about needing her fingers intact for playing the violin. It was such a sight to behold. With seeming effortlessness she navigated the minefield that was his family and from the looks of it they were eating it up. His father, Fintan, certainly seemed happy enough. If Declan had to put a word on it, surreal was probably it. Like he'd slipped into an alternate reality where his family had suddenly stopped hating each other.
A game. Okay, full stop. That was not good. His father only played two kinds of games. Either dangerous spells were involved or lots of alcohol or both. Declan supposed that technically made it three kinds, not that the distinctions mattered. It was an altogether undesirable scenario that was best avoided before there was any danger of it playing out.
"Yes indeed," Declan chimed in when there was an opening, "I've been meaning to show Farren the grounds and some interesting potion ingredients." That sounded like something he'd say, right? He doubted Farren had any special desire to know about Irish plants, but his father didn't know that.
Declan's grandfather though, astute as ever, raised an eyebrow. "We'll be back," Declan promised in a whisper. "We wouldn't miss the best part of the celebration." An understanding smile from his grandfather. Declan risked a little a conspiring wink in return.
If Fintan had clocked the interaction, he didn't comment on it. Instead, he was focused on Farren giving her an intense look. "Oh, come on. You can't leave so soon. My cousin sent a few good bottles from the distillery..."
"Later, Finn," Declan's grandmother interrupted, scolding softly. "There's be plenty of time. Let the young ones go and stretch their legs." She then turned to Declan, tidying a few strands of Declan's hair. They locked eyes for a moment and Declan nodded. Then, something was exchanged between the two of them. Whatever it was, Declan swiped the item into one of his pockets.
He walked around the table to stand beside Farren. "Well, come on, shall we? There's quite a lot to see." He held out his hand and before anyone had much of a chance to argue he whisked her out of sight and deeper into the gardens.
"Grandmother's prized rose bushes, various kinds," he commented vaguely, pointing out some plants in flower, producing large but delicate dark blue flowers. "She's particularly fond of those," Declan pointed out, referring to a bush featuring white flowers with purple rimmed leaves. He could have extolled the virtues of the different kinds and their scents. Some weee suitable for perfume production while others were solely ornamental. His mind, however, was engaged elsewhere.
His descriptions stopped just as soon as they were out of earshot. He opened a gate that lead to a narrow mountain path. It snaked towards the horizon through the picturesque purple heather and painterly swathes of green landscape. With nothing obstructing the view, and not a wizard- or mugglemade structure in sight the mountains seemed endless.
"There's a particular little spot I've been wanting to show you," he broke the silence. "That is it you don't mind a few minutes walk. I'll promise to make it worth your while."
He indicated ahead to a branch in the path. "We take a left there and just around the corner there is a rather pretty oak forest. It's quite special in that it's been here for a very long time and the trees are hundreds of years old."
The trees were still in the distance, but looked gnarled and ancient even from afar.
"Anyway, what do you think of my folks? Are you managing or do I have to come up with an excuse for us later on?"