Declan followed dutifully, but was surprised when they arrived at a spiral staircase. This could hardly be a route many visitors to this estate took. It felt like he was about to see something very private, that few had been allowed admission to.
The library was well and truly impressive. He'd never seen anything like it. The Ó Dálaighs had a sizeable library for Ireland, but the collection at Ard na Mara would have probably fitted into this space a hundred times over. There were books everywhere he looked and then there were yet more books. Farren needn't have worried what Declan was thinking of it. He'd always thought as Farren's family as a little gauche, but this he could truly respect. Their collection was a marvel and, in his opinion, something that really spoke to the dignity a pureblood family ought to have.
It amused him that both Abercrombies thought he'd be the most interested in the academic works. Oh, little did they know his capricious soul. In truth, he felt his imagination captured by the notion of a lost novel, a hidden gem that wasn't published anymore and that no other wizard had opened in a hundred years. If given access, he was likely to lose many hours here to let himself be inspired by all the priceless treasures squirrelled away in this place. There had to be a gothic novel amongst this flood of books that he hadn't read yet.
They entered an office in his eyes lit up. Ah, a potions, mmhmhh, or maybe not quite that lab. It was hard to say which way that went, but the ingredients present certainly painted a picture of the kind of work that was being undertaken in the space. Something about strengthening blood, though for what purpose remained somewhat nebulous without closer examination.
"Artemisia arbuscula," he muttered under his breath, "and cyanea linearifolia. That must have cost a pretty penny." He didn't know a lot of potioneers who stocked now extinct ingredients. Honestly, at this point he wouldn't have been surprised to see a sigillaria sample. Judging by the grade of equipment this was more than a quaint little hobby, but the workspace of someone organised and methodical. Though few would have found blood magic endearing, Declan couldn't deny that it put him at ease. At last there was something he understood and could relate to.
Drawn by the familiar allure of cauldrons and ingredients he took a step closer, his fingers dancing in air above the workstation, but never once touching anything. He had a million thoughts on what he was seeing; from some of it not being stored in the best possible way to that if his conclusions were right Mr Abercrombie really needed some lus oilleala to get anywhere with this. Fancy that, an Abercrombie who knew how to use a cauldron.
Farren's father launched into a grand speech of laying it all bare. Declan nodded here and there, affording the older man the courtesy of speaking without any interruptions. What he said was sometimes just as interesting as what he didn't say. Though Declan knew the Abercrombies were dwindling in numbers, he'd never thought too hard about medicine behind it. The thought lingered on his mind now. Did Farren's father know about her miscarriage? He concluded she probably hadn't told him.
He looked at the ingredients on that workbench again, getting a bit more of an inkling what his purpose there had to be. How did he cope with the fact his findings had to be at odds with pureblood doctrine? Mr Abercrombie had to be good at holding two versions of the truth in his thoughts.
Declan picked up his glass, which had remained untouched until now and emptied it all at once. "I think this is the first bit of sense I hear about what's going on with your family," he said softly. "And I see the matter comes down to me making your family a better offer than Ambrose Malfoy. I'll try to do that, for Farren's sake. I'd like to avoid for our relationship with you all to be strained. I know how much you all care for each other."
His expression remained quite neutral as he slid into a more businesslike mode of operation. "Since you've been honest and respectful towards me, I'll be honest to you. That means I will probably say some things you don't want to hear, but I don't see how I can spare you listening to that now."
His eyes met Mr Abercrombies and he looked at the other man straight on. "If there is one thing I want you to know about house House Ó Dubhuir it's that we are as ancient as they come and descended from Irish nobility. We're deeply rooted in traditions, many so old only a few, small pockets of the wizarding world even remember. I'm of Laighin and Dál Cairbre descent and I will defend our way of life and heritage to my last breath.
"Our history is riddled with the true masters of what you're doing over there." he waved vaguely in the direction of the workbench. "Druids were among the first to understand the importance of blood and it's subtle connections to spagyric alchemy. The sanctity of magical blood remains a pillar of our believes. We say virtue alone ennobles and if there is an official O'Dwyer stance on those of lesser heritage than it would be to show our superiority through kindness and benevolence.
"That's not to say we are without our challenges or without internal difference of opinion. My father is rather more inclined towards being in the thick of things than most of us. I'm moderate, in particular because I have to be. I'm not an heir, I have taken control and I run the family business. The livelihood of many depends on me. I can't go round gallivanting, chasing trouble. Such activities are best left to those who have no more pressing obligations. I would always put my family before any cause, no matter how just and great the cause.
"Given all that, let me say that my loyalty, love or dedication is not for sale. Farren's always had them and she always will. I'd never accept a fee upon producing an heir. I appreciate this is the way things are done in some families, but it is not the way we do things in mine. I couldn't possibly accept.
"Now, your wife expressed some concern over my abilities and disposition. While your family are without the shadow of a doubt are the masters of all that was ever written down, the O'Dwyers have some purchase on all that never made the page. Having too much of a public image is not good for business. What you get to see of me, is in a way the same as what I get to see of you; a a carefully curated public persona. It might not make me the most popular, but it does make me effective.
"Unlike for your house, our name isn't our brand. We value privacy. Most people know me for Viridian, my father for his duelling and my grandfather for jewellery design, but very few realise that we have a hand in everything from goblin steel to medicinal potion making. The vast majority of what we do is not publicly associated to our family name. That's deliberate. People can't regulate or interfere with what they don't know about.
"I will, however, own the following. Your wife can shame or frighten others into following her. All it takes for me is a signature. I don't defame my enemies, I defund them or unravel their entire business.
"And speaking of that our businesses operate fundamentally differently to yours from what I gathered from Farren. Everything is family controlled. We rarely take external advisors or consultants. Everyone with any ability to make decisions is part of a close knit network and alliance that has endured generations.
"Though we often pass on our estates and wealth to firstborn sons, primogeniture is more of a recent fad than part of our tradition. I'd say we see it as relative rather than absolute. This means that in my family being the oldest son doesn't necessarily mean you inherit. The business usually goes to the person best able to lead it. That might be the firstborn son, but it sometimes isn't. I'm an example of this. I cut my own father in the line of succession. And I fought for it tooth and claw.
"I have a younger brother and four very talented uncles, who each have their own sons and daughters. So, I have some freedom you don't. I don't need to produce any offspring for house O'Dwyer. My line will continue."
What he was saying, while on some level technically true, was purposefully stylised to set him up for a later argument. He'd told Farren the same before, caught somewhere between the Gaelic revivalist views of his grandfather and the realisation that he would have to make some sort of concessions to her family to keep everybody happy. Who cared if he somewhat misrepresented what a tanistry was to get there.
"So, that medical issue. I'm afraid I don't have any living indiscretions to my name I could offer up as proof, but having seen all that is around me, I can give you this."
He pilfered one of Rawdon's empty containers and sat it down on the desk. With a casual flick of his fingers he placed a cut against his wrist and let some of his blood catch in the container. Risky, for sure, but perhaps a show of trust would win him some favour. "You look like you'd know how to make sense of that."
"So while we're on this let's talk family tree. My family line does have some English blood, though none of it recent. Out of lines we may share I can only think of Fawley, Gaunt and Nott, though these connections were made a long time ago. I'm am positive our houses never mixed directly, nor did you mix with the Sayres, O'Byrnes, O'Sullivans, Morrows or Ó Dálaighs."
He shifted in his chair, deciding on a whim that there was something he hadn't even discussed with Farren that might make for a bargaining chip. It was worth taking a shot.
"There's something quite preposterous we could talk about, that won't make much sense to your family, quite possibly your women will laugh and giggle, but seeing your lab, well, perhaps it may make sense to you. Like I said before, us O'Dwyers have some purchase on everything that never made it to paper. Like how what you're doing over there will need lus oilleala to get anywhere with stabilising whatever was in that cauldron. At least if I'm reading the corrosion pattern the right way.
"The point I'm getting at here is that our Irish druids are some of the most impressive healers you will have never even heard of and that our knowledge isn't shared or obtainable from books. But if you think about it, have you heard of such a thing as an Irish family without many children or an Irish squib?"
"I couldn't possibly tell you how that works, just that if I needed a druid all I need to do is ask.
"So, let's get back to me making you an offer. Your Mr Malfoy may have fathered children before, but what is his incentive now? What's it to him if Farren doesn't fall pregnant? A few more bags in his Gringotts vault won't mean much to him. And he might tire of her and spend his seed among his mistresses. He doesn't have an affection for her, nor she for him.
I want a big family. I have a grand estate in Ireland that was clearly meant for more than two or three and I'd like nothing better than to fill those halls with life and laughter. I have a grand ambitious master plan. And while I'd like to pass my business and estate to my own children, I am am free to make a different choice if I think it wise.
"So, our first child can be your heir. And if we don't have another I will chose my successor among my nephews or perhaps my brother's children. That means our child will be the only one in our history to not bear our name or have access to our business. I suspect that may invite some public scrutiny. You tell me how to handle that. Publicity is not my area of expertise.
"I'll give Farren and our child my lands in England to support them and I can refund you whatever bribe you've paid Mr Malfoy to be part of this scheme.
"If you want, and because we'd be family, you may meet one of our arch druids. You and your wife may benefit from a consultation.
"However, this offer comes with some conditions.
"Farren and I will not be pressured or bothered to join any political cause. I don't want the mother of my children in danger. If she decides to join of her own free will, fine. But if you push her on this I will consider any agreement we reach voided.
"Any children of ours grow up with us and our family. I will not allow one of our children being shipped off to England to never be seen again.
"I understand you care deeply about tradition and so do I. However, the way to make somebody engage with that is not to force them, but to make them fall in love with it and chose the life. My grandfather did this for me, I can do it for your heir. Your ladies will control their fears and not scare the daylight out of the child.
"One of you, I suspect your father, will teach Farren and me how your business actually works. We can't ask something of our children we're incapable of doing ourselves. I see this library and the blood, sweat and tears of generations that must have been necessary to build it. I don't want to father the entitled brat who brings it down.
"Oh, and you don't even think of making a breeding plan or schedule for our children. Any future spouses will be subject to Farren's and their own approval. "
He took a deep breath and gave a smile. "And I don't like the name Ignatius. That's a no as well."
Declan was sure Abercrombie had a sense of humour. Maybe?
"So it boils down to what you and yours think. Is that enough of an inducement to resolve this peacefully? You can't really stop Farren from accepting me and if you disinherit her that will hurt you more than it hurts us. But I'd much rather avoid such unnecessary dramatics."
Either way, he'd said his piece and laid out his position. He'd made his gesture of good faith, hoping Farren wouldn't clock just how unconventional he was being. There was a part of him deeply reluctant to do anything that would damage Farren's bond with her family. She claimed not to care, but Declan knew how hard it was to walk out and to disappoint expectations. He didn't want that for her and just maybe this would help.