Eamon Guerrin, Arl of Redcliffe, had a certain vision of how he was to introduce his young wife to his even younger ward; such a vision involved little Alistair in his best clothes and on his best behavior, which was surely not so much to ask of a six year old boy, and Isolde would meet him and immediately be smitten by his innocence and instantaneous love of perfect strangers. They would live happily, he and his wife and his adoptive son, and any children Isolde bore him would be raised alongside Alistair as his brothers and sisters.
A pleasant dream, but it was not to be.
Alistair was, in fact, introduced to Isolde when the boy ran naked and giggling down the halls of the keep, trailing soap bubbles and water everywhere he went - with an exasperated and panicked Arl trailing in his wake, soaked from head to toe from a sudden dunking, his sleeves rolled past the elbow and his shirt likely ruined.
To be fair, Alistair saw Isolde before she saw him, saw the massive porcelain vase in her delicate hands, the flowers that must have weighed as much as an ox. And to his credit, he did do his best to come to an abrupt stop, throwing all his weight backwards and pinwheeling his arms in comical fashion; but the floor-runner began to skid under his feet, and as Alistair fell, he continued forward to slide-tackle Isolde's unprepared ankles, an insult only compounded by Eamon's own inability to cease movement as he arrived rather clumsily on the scene. They all tangled together like the tails of the fabled rat-kings, a pile of limbs and shrieking frightened irritation, and the vase flew a good ten feet before shattering at the base of a wall, releasing a flood of water, a profusion of blossoms and shards of porcelain in skirling arcs across the stone floor.
Isolde extricated herself first, hair bedraggled, her face pinched into a righteous scowl. "Husband," she growled, a thundercloud bearing down on Eamon's head, "what is this... this... this catastrophe you bring upon me?! That vase was my mother's!"
Alistair was no longer laughing, staring up at Isolde as if the woman had grown a second head, naked as the day he was born and dripping water on the rugs to boot. Eamon snatched him up under an arm when the Arl reached his feet, bowed his head most shamefully, silently begging the Maker's intervention. Though his father - and Maric too, the cheeky bastard - had assured Eamon that with time he would grow wise to the ways of dealing with women and ladies, marriage was then an unfamiliar battlefield, and one on which Isolde had easily seized the upper hand. "This is Alistair, Isolde," he mumbled, as loudly as he dared. "I promised a friend that I would take care of him."
"Hullo," said Alistair from under Eamon's elbow, blonde head tilted, eyes bright with open and fearless curiosity, a boon most days, a curse on this one. "Are you a new maid?"
"A new -" Isolde started, her cheeks turning a red so dark it verged upon purple. "Husband, did you not tell him who I am?!"
If the Maker heard Eamon's prayers, the deity clearly had a sense of humour. "We were about to discuss that, actually," claimed the Arl, stonefaced. With as much sobriety as he could muster, he peered down at the young troublemaker under his arm and said, "Alistair, this is my wife, the Lady Isolde. You are to be respectful to her. Apologize for the vase."
"Sorry about the vase," said the boy promptly, though perhaps not as ashamedly or sincerely as Eamon might have liked. It was difficult to impress upon children so young, the import of political behavior, and more difficult than most with Alistair, through whose skull the words went in one ear and out the other. Isolde seemed placated, nevertheless, appeased by the quick contrition; Eamon held hope that the situation could yet be salvaged, at least until the boy tilted his fool head the other way and commented, "You've got a funny accent for a lady."
Isolde's face reddened down to her neck, and Eamon said a quick prayer for his immortal soul, for he was certain that his wife's gaze would incinerate him on the spot.
"We will see you at dinner, Isolde," Eamon said quickly, hefting Alistair upwards on his hip to hide the fact that he wished to shake the boy until his eyes rattled in his skull. "Excuse us." And off the turned down the hall, retracing the way they had come, and Eamon felt his wife's dagger-eyes on his back every step of the way.
Alistair, limp and content as a sack of potatoes to be carried, waited until they had turned the corner before asking the question. "What's a wife?"
It was going to be a very long dinner, and possibly a very long existence.