Disclaimer: I'm not Irish and haven't created the Saltees or their characters. No copyright infringement intended.
Chapter 1: After the storm
Conor woke up with a start: ¿where was he? This wasn't his bed at the tower or even the cot back at Little Saltee. It all came back to him. He was home, home with his family, with the Princess that's not right she was the Queen now.
He remembered his shock at hearing her new title, although it had been almost a year since the coronation to him Isabella was still the Princess that constantly threatened to execute him. Many things had changed and he guessed he had only seen a tiny part of them.
He was still in his dirty leather clothing for last night's flight and it was sticky with sweat, sea salt and blood, his hair was mated on his forehead and his face still greasy. He couldn't believe his mom had let him go to sleep like that, it was a strange feeling having a mom again, he hadn't had that feeling in over three years and he couldn't really say if he liked it or not…. But then again if he thought about it, it wasn't that surprising, last night had been full of things to do and long repressed feelings to express.
After Declan had reassured the people of the Saltees that their Queen was safe and sound they'd had to deal with Bonvilain's henchmen. Captain Broekhart, Mariscal now, had called a few of his trusted sharpshooters to dispose of the scum. Conor had been curious about their destination and he now cursed himself for saying anything. The answer had been obvious, to the detention cells and straight to Little Saltee first thing in the morning, with Conor's memories he couldn't let that happen, the situation in the smaller of the islands had to be taken care of before sending more prisoner's in, besides he suspected Bonvilain's influence was bigger than any of them thought. He shouldn't have asked, shouldn't have cared , because his knowledge only brought an onslaught of questions from his parents and the Queen, more questions than he cared to answer at the moment. He had cut them off firmly claiming more urgent matters but he knew they wouldn't let it go for long.
Shortly after the soldier's had been taken care of and after answering what felt like hundreds of questions with vague answers about what he had been doing, "Where were you? At first he had me controlled" "At first? Yeah, I escaped a while ago" that kind of answer that only spurred their curiosity. His mom who had to the moment been relatively quiet blurted out in a excited voice: " You flew!"
Thankfully it meant a change of topic, to one he was much more comfortable with, his designs and his mom ever the scientist provided him with great conversation and new points of view about the flaws of the aircraft. At some point Isabella had asked with a small voice about the name of the plane, to what Conor had proudly answered its name was Le Brosse.
Conor's memories from the night of the kings murder brought a lot of joy mixed with tears and through it all Catherine Broekhart's face held a little smile that seemed to say "I told you so" to her husband. But in the end both of them were glad the man they had considered a friend wasn't part of the plot. When they had found the diary their doubts had grown but they had no way to make sure Victor hadn't been in league with the traitor.
The happy news led to remembering their lost ones, but this time without the grief of Conor's death and Victor's treason, they remembered through the happy memories they had of them, and Conor felt for one second that Conor Finn was leaving him, he was almost back to being Conor Broekhart of Great Saltee, but a stray look around the room made sure he remembered the past three years and all he had gone through all the obstacles he had conquered by being Mr Finn, of the Battering Rams.
Halfway through his father's retelling of the "heroic deeds" that had earned him the title of Sir, he lost interest, that night's flight and the fight afterwards had tough on his muscles, his overused mind, not to mention how emotionally challenging had been the reunion with his loved ones. In short he was exhausted, so when he lost interest his body started to numb and his mind to shut down. Year spent in the prison wouldn't let him loose awareness of his surroundings completely but his state was clear enough that his mom picked on it and decided to cut short the story.
Catherine had also picked up a lot more from her son, the wide shoulder's and the beard notwithstanding, her son had changed, his eyes were guarded as were his movements, he had been able to sway their questions without answering and she wanted the answers she wanted to know where her son had been and why he hadn't returned earlier if he had been able to. Her husband was just glad his son was back , glad he hadn't been killed for what he considered his incompetence but also wracked with guilt about not having recognised him in that cell, about the heartache that could have saved them.
Isabella, although she had realised the same things that Catherine had she had focused on the solid fact that her childhood companion, her saviour was backed and she was also very appreciative of the physical changes in him, she wouldn't let herself dwell n other things that might have changed also or in Bonvilain's treason and its consequences that would come in the morning, right now she just wanted to relish on Conor's return.
When all of the realized just how tired they really were a few decisions were taken, the Broekhart's needed to return home to Sean but Conor would stay in the castle till there was a time the next day to explain the people the events that had transpired the night before. So Isabella had given him a room in the guest wing and they had snuck him quietly in for everyone knows the Castle staff babbled around in the city.
After a brief hesitation the queen had pecked him goodnight on the cheek, he remembered with a fond smile, and she had left him there, the moment he fell on his squishy and soft bedding he was asleep. That explained his state of unkempt.
He decided he had to ,at least wash the plane grease off of his face, there was ajar filled of water and a basin in one of the corners of the room but he didn't want to get his clothes wet, it as the only thing he had in Great Saltee so he pulled his jacket and shirt off and started scrubbing. As he was finishing the doorknob started to move and he jumped to behind the door, opposite from the mirror he was just using, he'll be able to see who was coming in before they saw him and he was close enough to act if needed.
It was the princess on the other side of the door, she had awoken extraordinarily early so as to leave clean clothes for Conor before he or any of her servants woke up, it was barely dawn. She had had trouble finding the clothes, Victor had been too short and Declan was too lean, so he had gotten them from a trunk of clothes her father had ordered before his death and that nobody had ever worn.
She was expecting a stealthy in and out movement so it's understandable she shrieked when she saw a figure on the mirror. Conor was fast to close her mouth with his hand before she alerted the whole guard. She kicked him and struggled till he came forward with her so she could clearly see his reflection in the mirror.
She then calmed down enough to be released, and of course was angry at Conor for scaring her.
-"What are you doing waiting behind a door like criminal!"- yelled Isabella but became distracted when she realized Conor wasn't wearing a shirt, and came face to face with the new muscles the boy had.
Conor was hurt by that comparison, he had been call criminal too many times in the last three years to have Isabella do the same, but he had always been able to hide the hurt and resentment well and this time was no different. Isabella was staring at him and probably at some of the new scars he had gotten both at the prison and later working on his planes. He had to hide the tattoo of the Rams and the S that forever marked him as an inmate of Little Saltee from her and fast, that wouldn't be a pretty explanation. So he did the only thing he could do and turned that half of his body away from the princess, the movement also snapped Isabella out of it.
- !I should have you hung for scaring your Queen!" – exclaimed Isabella reverting to old patterns.
- "What does Her Majesty want? "– asked Conor not eager to remember the time before his life became a living hell and anxious to have Isabella out of the room. The Queen was hurt but decided not to show it, it was understandable Conor had had a rough time, that much she could tell. That didn't stop her from being short to him
-"Nothing, I just wanted to bring you new clothes to replace your dirty ones but I guess you like being filthy."
-"Oh! Thanks…" - said Conor with a sheepish smile. He appreciated the gesture but he really needed her gone.- "Anything else?"
- "Just don't go wandering around too much, the official announcement is at noon, I'll send somebody to bring you breakfast in the meantime." – Isabella was starting to get angry at him, she was his friend, even something else and deserved his respect.
- "Could you also arrange someway of me taking a bath before that?"– asked Conor aware that his attitude hadn't been the best to ask for favours. But Isabella with a single glance to the state of his body and clothes was glad to comply and then left the room before her mixed feelings got in the way.
She was hurt by Conor's curtness but she was also amazed at his new looks, she had just turned eighteen after all and she was glad to have her childhood crush home but she wasn't sure how much of her crush was left, how much had been replaced by an angry stranger. Not for the first time she wished her dad was here to tell her what to do.
When she got back to her room she made arrangements for Conor and for the official announcement, the people needed to hear the truth rumours were already circulating all around Great Saltee and she didn't want there to be any misunderstandings. She pulled herself together and headed to her studio to make a speech that would be remembered in years to come.
The maid Isabella had sent to escort Conor to the baths had exploded into tears the moment Conor had appeared in the other side of the door wearing his old clothes as he guessed it was better not dirtying the new ones, the maid had served Isabella since she was born and had seen the two kids grow together, she had also been witness to the devastating heartbreak her Queen suffered after losing her dad and the young man in front of her, the maid had also cried for days after that and seeing Conor alive again was a blessing.
Of course Conor being a teenage boy, had no idea what to do with the crying mess in front of him . He needn't have worried, the maid still crying ushered him quickly to the bathroom and informed him his breakfast would be served when he got back to his room..
Conor would be lying if he said the relaxing castle bath wasn't good for him. It was so much better than the one at the tower, he had wanted to design a system that heated water uniformly but he had decided to leave it for when he was in America.
America… He wasn't going anywhere anymore his family had welcomed him back with open arms and she couldn't leave the m now but he still owed Linus the week at the Savoy, he also realised he had to tell Linus he was okay, to do that he had to figure out a way to escape from the castle undetected or ask for permission but he wasn't sure how much he could tell. The bath washed away those worries too, he'd deal with them when it was necessary. Laying there relaxed, his mind drifted to the princess, he had once fancied himself in love with her, and he had to admit she was more beautiful now than ever but he hadn't let himself think about her in so long that he didn't know how to act around her anymore. He spent the rest of the bath fantasizing about the life they could have had.
The water turned cold and he got up and changed into the clothes Isabella had gotten for him. The clothes were obviously expensive if you looked at the quality of the stitches but the fabrics weren't too luxurious, no silk or velvet. He put on the collared shirt and the riding jacket. He had to admit he looked good although he looked more like a pampered kid than the tough man he had been forced to become. His hair and beard were still in their wild state so the maid tutted at him when she returned and then proceeded to cut his hair shorter and trim his beard when she finished it was looking a lot more respectable than the multicoloured ragged thing it had been, there were still three colours but they were more evenly spaced and it was less noticeable. Thee maid finally cleared him for public appearance and left him alone in his room.
As he had done ever since escaping Little Saltee he opened the window and let the sunrays warm him. He had spent hours on the roof of the tower, just enjoying their warmth. He wished he had his design journal with him, he wanted to write down some of the ideas his mother had had the night before but that as well as Linus and the rest of his clothing was back at the tower. So he was content to just stay there and leave his mind free. He remembered his mentor Victor Vigny and was glad that his name would finally be cleaned after being accused of the worst crime he could have possibly thought of: murdering his friend.
He didn't know how much time had passed but the sun had moved to its highest point by the time someone knocked at the door.
It was Declan Broekhart who had ached to go back to Conor earlier but Sean had gotten a bad cold and Isabella had requested his assistance in getting everything ready for the pronouncement as well as sending spies to Ireland to unearth Bonvilain's contacts. It was only when someone had to go get Conor for the announcement that he was allowed to leave his duties for a while.
- "Son, it's time".
- "Where's Isabella?"
- "She's already there, she'll start the speech and then tell the people about my new title explain the reason and then you come in, the hero."
- "Oh…" - Truthfully Conor didn't feel like a hero, nothing like he had felt when he was nine, he didn't even know what to make of his father, now prematurely grey-haired at the temples and much more emotional than he remembered. But he didn't complain about the adjective, it was Isabella's kingdom she could present him however she wanted. –"Where's mom?"
- "She stayed behind taking care of baby Sean, your brother's feeling a little under the weather. Don't worry she'll be there when your name is called."
That was weird his parents went everywhere together unless he was working. Many things had changed including the presence of his little … brother. He didn't feel like he had a brother but he supposed he could get used to it but the fact that his mom hadn't gone to see him after three years made him sad, he had always had the greatest conversations with her and she was always there when he had doubts and right now he had plenty.
Both Catherine and Isabella were too busy to talk to him and Declan had only arrived last minute, he didn't' like the situation and he was starting to miss the simplicity of his tower and Linus or even the camaraderie with Otto Malarkey. Being Conor Finn was much easier to deal with.