Coming of Age

By Shahrezad1

Summary: Merida has finally been allowed to come with her father for a trading trip now that she's of age. But when the sale regarding one of Angus's progeny stirs up an old acquaintance, Merida isn't quite sure how to react. MeridaXMacGuffin

Disclaimer: Don't own! Don't sue!


Chapter 2

The coming home—alone—had been hard. But the weeks since 'selling' Marjorie were harder still for several reasons—loss of the mare she'd raised herself, wistfulness, and a strange kind of yearning which tugged at her heartstrings. Soon, however, Merida was busy with tasks and responsibilities, and she shoved the memory of the blond-haired man somewhere deep within the recesses of her mind. Where it only made an appearance every now and again, when the ginger least expected it.

Spring weather had made way for summer and with summer came fall. All went as was custom, her father busy at seeing to those with fealty, Elinor attending the castle and local affairs. The triplets had been commanded into tutelage with their mother—the same schooling which Merida had thankfully graduated from. As for the Princess herself…well, she was learning how to rule. Becoming proficient at the art of trade had only been the first step and now she was actively pursuing the next course of her leadership training

First there was the act of studying the other clans, who shipped what and where, an intensive process if there ever was one. Then the necessity of maintaining a full larder by way of careful preservation, especially just before winter. The care and rotation of rushes used upon the castle floor was also surprisingly important for hygiene reasons, as was learning which of the castle servants attended to which tasks. Then there was a basic understanding of crop planting, care, and harvesting, details drilled into her head by the royal steward.

Animal husbandry seemed to be second nature to her, Merida was surprised to find. Certainly she'd always had a natural affinity for horses, but time spent with the local shepherds had taught her to respect their efforts as well as the end result of her clan's own product (in addition to the horses they bred).

And two days a week Elinor coached Merida as she sat in state upon her father's throne, representing the Dunbroch clan as various individuals stated their grievances. Sometimes it was simple, as in the case of a tool borrowed and never returned, and sometimes it was difficult, such as when two men courted the same woman. The crown had had to represent a parental figure in that case, the maid having not a single close relative, so that permission could be given for her to wed. Altogether, the situation had been a little too close to home, but ultimately Merida had asked what the woman herself wanted, and with royal backing that had been that.

Elinor had remained mum on the subject, merely nodding her acquiescence to her daughter's decision, but the redhead had felt her mother's conflicted feelings just as strongly as if they had been spoken out loud.

The fact was, before this point in her life her parents—nay, nearly everyone—had assumed that she would find herself a husband and he would take care of these details in her name. But with the change in her fate there was a high likelihood that she just might rule as sole Queen (and no one even wanted to think about what might happen should one of the triplets be chosen as heir). No husband, no children. No grandchildren for her mother, at least on Merida's side, and the unlikelihood of finding someone whom she might care for as much as her parents loved one another.

Of course, when she'd bartered with the witch for help she hadn't expected for this to be the end result. Life was lonely at the top, but there were some advantages. For she, an unmarried female, was in the position to really make a difference in the history of her land. It was electrifying, to be finally taken seriously, and for all that she had less time to ride Angus and practice her archery she found herself fascinated by the layered responsibilities of royalty.

First and foremost being the care of the people whom they were responsible for. As Queen she had to be the one to make the hard decisions, of course, but she also had the opportunity to bless lives and make certain that all was running smoothly.

Any anxiety she might have felt three years ago had neatly been taken care of, replaced with a feeling of achievement, pride, and productivity.

With exception of the ache which came to her on quiet nights, when she wondered what it might be like to fall asleep with secure arms around her. Or the sound of a bairn sniffling in his or her sleep in a cradle across the way. Would he or she be dark-haired or fair, she wondered every now and again between moments of strength. Would they come one at a time, or in sets of three like her brothers? And what would their father look like?

Unbidden, her mind often focused on a memory of the man whom had bought her horse so many seasons ago. She'd meant to visit his home, to reunite Angus with his daughter, but it seemed as though every time she felt the confidence to make the journey something came up. O' course, half of 'em were excuses. Reasons to hide behind her palpitating heart and silly anxieties.

After all, she was just the lass who'd rejected him—him and Macintosh and Dingwall. She'd learned by now that she was neither better nor worse than any of her suitors, and hadn't any right to assume that she deserved their attention. Doyle MacGuffin was a man of strength, quietly intelligent, and more than likely had his own fare share of young women to choose from now that Merida had given him that opportunity.

An opportunity to chose for himself. To chose someone other than the tomboyish redhead with a penchant for flouting tradition.

Groaning, Merida set aside the manuscripts her mother had given her to work on—and wasn't it a miracle that her penmanship was getting better?—and made her way to the stables, which had been expanded over the past couple of years. At twenty-one her horse was still her solace, for all the enthusiasm that she'd developed for her new responsibilities.

Angus was also a solace for her emotions, which had been more than rebellious as of late.

She entered the wooden building just as the lowest stable boy was making an effort at removing saddle and burdens from a ruddy horse, and without thought the Princess rushed to his side. First to assist with the removal of the heavy object and then in rubbing the creature down.

That is, until the mare nudged her shoulder familiarly, huffing into the woman's unbound hair. Merida's eyes shot up at the scent, and with a chortling laugh she gasped at the sight before hugging the equine face.

"Oh, Marjorie! Whatever are ye doing here?" she asked no one in particular. But the youth beside her seemed to take that as a need for answers.

"She jes came en with a smithy from the lowlands. Said some'on aboot wanting work. He's in the throne room waitin' tae see the Queen."

The dusty-haired boy didn't seem to notice the abrupt blanking of her expression nor the red ferocity of ire slowly sinking into her form as realization washed away any previous feelings of joy or affection for a certain someone.

MacGuffin had sold her horse! And after she had trusted him to care for Marjorie as if she were his own, too.

Taking no notice of anything or anyone, Merida turned then and stomped right out the stable door, leaving the servant blinking after her. The redhead's pace only picked up the closer she got to the castle, until she was dashing through the corridors and side passageways down the quickest route to the main hall. Her skirts were held above her knees, flashing a pair of dark knitted stockings which kept out the Scottish cold on frigid winter nights and when she went about exploring the forest. While her curls streamed out behind her in a massive cloak, like so many Willow-the-Wisps through the wood.

Sooner than she'd expected the young woman came upon the room, forcing her lungs to clench still and feeling her blood pound in her head with anger and something that felt very much like bitterness. Forcing herself to peer out at the man from the shadows until she could discern just what he was up to.

The blacksmith's back was to her, his hair the characteristic paleness of anyone from the MacGuffin clan. And he was carefully spreading out a variety of wrought-iron weapons upon the surface of one of their many long tables. The cloth he'd brought them in was dark and rich, leather hide which puddled across the wooden surface like the richest of tablecloths. Emphasizing, if anything, his weapons' silver shine. But Merida ignored the workmanship of his craft, evident even from this distance, as well as the vague prickle of familiarity which attacked her stomach the minute she spied the roll of muscle along his broad back.

She was too angry. Too angry to think, much less see.

Checking for straw in her hair and straightening her dress with determined jerks, she pulled her shoulders back for a regal walk out the doorway she was hiding in and down to the dais, sitting regally upon the throne. He didn't notice, a kind of careful agitation twitching his hands and bowed head as he examined each piece as though they held his future in them.

Until Merida spoke. Her bearing was deliberately regal and stern, words aimed at harsh disapproval, and if anything her own feelings of rejection swayed whatever she might have otherwise said.

"I was told a blacksmith wished tae see me, but I regret tae state tha' we have nae need fer yer skills at this taime," she stated the words coldly, elegantly. Emulating her mother in her icy anger, had she taken the time to notice. Never mind the fact that Elinor would probably disapprove of her actions had she been present.

The man's face jerked up. But it took her several more seconds to notice.

"The man we have is more'n fit fer—" she began to rail again, till movement brought her eyes down to a flash of pale yellow and green, and with a start unfocussed blue eyes became clear, "D-Doyle?! Wot are doin' here?"

There was only silence in the throne room. The two firstborns stared at one another in a combination of shock and embarrassment, a million different thoughts galloping in the space between them. Any self-importance she'd managed to summon up deflated in the wake of her horror, and MacGuffin looked struck, as though Angus had kicked him.

"I…um, Princess," he attempted by way of greeting. A formal, stilted response which dropped ice down into her stomach.

She spoke unthinkingly, yearning mixed with the desperation to take back what had just happened, "just…just Merida. Please."

But something seemed to harden as he shook his head, "nay, for A'm addressing my lady the day. Nothing less 'an Princess wilnae dae."

Oh. The stable boy had said that he had been waiting to see the Queen. And then she'd come in and…and…

The young woman was flustered with growing shame, so spoke in the attempt at healing the breach, "I…I sometimes sit in. For me mum. Da is at the borders, dealing with a dispute. So mum makes declarations. An'…so do I. Sometimes."

The blond's gaze was careful, wary, "ay michty ay. Braw regal, I noticed." His hands were clenched on his belt just as hers were knotted in her dress.

Which just about broke her, then and there. Without a notice for the throne itself, the redhead dashed away from its representation and to his side, touching the man's arm as he towered above her. But at least now they were on equal footing. The way that she preferred, whether speaking with family or what were soon to be her subjects.

"Oh, Doyle, I just saw Majorie in the stables an' I thought…I thought," Merida bit her lip anxiously, and it was that move that he seemed to focus on. Before, abruptly, the man's shoulders dropped with a heavy sigh.

"So tha's wot all the fykie haiverin' was aboot then, eh?" he said with mild humor, just the tiniest bit of a teasing in his tone, "ye imagined I'd gie the guid cuddie tae some puir commoner, eh gather? Then come tae the Clan Dunbroch tae show off me skill an' conquests?"

Well, that wasn't quite what she had been thinking, but close enough. The Dunbroch heir moaned as she ran a hand down her face, to which MacGuffin only chuckled low in the barrel of his chest.

"I am so sairy, MacGuffin!"

He carefully removed both of her hands as they began angrily tugging at her curls, like a kitten with its claws caught, "it's Doyle, remember? An I'll nae be a MacGuffin fer much langer."

"Wot?" Her first thought, she was ashamed to admit, was that lads weren't the ones to change their last names with marriage, but lasses. But Doyle wasn't done speaking.

"The lad en the stable cried A'm a blacksmith, I'd wager," he offered knowingly and Merida realized with a start that she had been understanding his language more clearly, as though the visitor was being deliberate in his efforts at being clear. Or mayhap the one who had changed was herself, having traced and retraced their former conversation in her mind for months now.

"Aye, but…" her confusion colored her response, eyebrows coming together in a frown, "yer nae a blacksmith…are ye?"

He beamed fondly, a smile which softened his visage and stretched from one side of his beard to the other, "aye. I took tae the skill jes this last summer, 'en me da will ha' more'n eneuch weapons should the Vikings come agin. But…"

Confusion influenced her earnestness, and without thought her tiny hand again fell to his forearm, where it stayed, "but?"

"Eh got tae thinking aboot wot ye said regardin' cheenging ar fate. An' Eh decided," he paused deliberately, looking down with a hint of the shyness she'd seen years ago, "tha' fit Eh love es makkin an' biggin. Nae ruling."

In opposition to her own recent epiphany.

"Yer richt in tha' ye have a blacksmith tha'll serve ye jes fain an', truth is, he is the best. An' A'll want tae lairn from the best, ye ken? So A'm tossin' off me ties tae join Dunbroch."

The lad went on speaking as though he hadn't just pulled the stonework out from beneath her feet. Merida was left almost gasping for air, but she forced herself to focus as he continued on.

"Me da doesna quite approve, but all will be well. I gev up me place as first bairn tae me brudder, Donnal. Ay wouldna be any guid a' leadin' anyway. Plus, he's already betrothed so ye wouldna hafta worry aboot nuther suitor. Me brudder has the 'earts o' the fawlk an' kin better ruel 'em that way-he's got a solid head en his shoulders. An' this way A'll serve MacGuffin by makin' ties another way."

"Ye…ye will?"

"By servin' ma Laird Dunbroch en his own hous," his eyes were intent on hers as he said the words, a faint smile leftover from his previous grin. Unbidden, it felt as though her heartbeat was moving at the pace of Marjorie's hooves, the cold, damp throne room muggy with heat. Merida's hand was still on his arm, she realized.

The redhead stepped back from touching him with an almost silent gasp. Telling her raging senses to calm down as she pulled in some dignity and set out to examine the weapons he'd laid out on the table, "an'…no one will be missing ye at yer own home?"

It was a bold question, especially for a 'lady' such as herself. But she couldn't help the words; they just came out without any thought or planning—like a good many other things she'd done in her life.

There was a smile in his voice as he responded, "nae one in particular. Mae Mudder, assuredly, an' me brudders and sisters. But A'm nae the popular sort."

"Popularity is fer the arrogant an' the insecure," Merida remarked idly, thinking back on a certain other suitor of hers. But just as she was about to continue picking through the swords he'd brought the presence of…something caught her attention, tucked just beneath the weapons on hands. Wood. It smelled of the wild forest wrapped up in a honey tone. Her fingers inched beneath until they knocked into something solid, then grasped the object and pulled it into view.

"Wot's this?"

"Nay!" the desperate shout was paired with a clang as weapons were tipped over and the lad fell to the ground. The Princess whirled around in concern, nearly clothes-lining the man in the process.

How can he be so tall…even when kneeling? Her thoughts asked the question shortly before being cut in half…by the appearance of his face just in front of hers. The warrior had caught himself just in time on one knee, as a man might propose to a lady, and their noses were a finger-length from brushing. The only thing separating them, really, was the wood held between them. A weapon Merida turned to with abrupt fascination, feeling the color rise into the height of her cheeks.

But what had been a desperate search for escape from his proximity turned into abrupt fascination.

The redhead held in her calloused palms the most lovely bow she'd ever laid eyes on. The arcs of each curve had been smoothed until they shined out of a wood as pale as a full moon. Markings were painstakingly carved into the weapon, then stained a darker tone with a delicate brush. She recognized bears and water and fish scrolling across the wood in an intricate wave.

Celtic scrollwork rimmed the edges and the grip while there, in the center, her fingers found a symbol she recognized more than any other—that of Clan Dunbroch.

As for its usefulness beyond mere decoration, the cat-gut string was of the best quality, wound tighter than she could ever have been able to manage on her own. Someone of great strength had to have put the piece together, she concluded. Someone like young Doyle MacGuffin.

The young woman looked up into the carefully guarded face of her re-found friend, "it…" she hesitated, words a hush as though speaking of the piece might defile it, "…it's beautiful."

His frozen shoulders softened and the wall behind his eyes melted. Merida could read Doyle's relief in addition to the wryness of his expression as the hand not occupied with propping himself up went to awkwardly rub the back of his head.

"Tha'…tha' was'na meant tae be wit' the rest, actually. It's fer some'on in particular."

Her eyes flickered in surprise and she dimly registered the disappointment now weighing her down. The piece was a lovely, well-crafted weapon, and for a second there she'd thought…she'd hoped…

"I-I see. Well, I hope that they appreciate the work. Ah, that it…that it's well-received. That they, um, loik it," Merida had started out smoothly but soon began verbally stumbling, "because I loik it. Not that my opinion matters much, I ken."

Biting her lip at that glorious example of what not to do in a diplomatic situation, the redhead extended her hand to give it back to him.

MacGuffin's expression turned to something like amusement as the man folded his free fingers parallel to hers and pushed the weapon back the way it had come.

"The truth is…it was meant as a present…fer ye."

She blinked once, then took his steady look as being permission for her to gape, "wot?"

"O'course, Eh was hoping tae save it…fer a few years taime. Till there was need tae exchange gifts," if anything the characteristic shyness of Doyle's youth was warring with stubborn warrior determination upon his face, the blacksmith facing her head-on as though Merida was his executioner. The ginger lass felt like snatching back her hand at the determined fire in his eyes but instead…

"Oh," She swallowed harshly and wet her lips, a motion the young man followed with his intent, focused look. Then her heart abruptly took over control of her limbs and…her grip slid down the length of the wood to cover his own hand. So that instead of two figures pushing the object either direction they were stilled in the middle. Clasping it together, just over the mark of the Clan Dunbroch.

Her voice developed as a delicate whisper, softer and more feminine than she'd ever heard coming forth from her throat. But with him kneeling so close, their heads so near one another, MacGuffin heard it all.

"I…I'd loik tha'. With a little taime."

Then she could reign as Queen…and he could be her husband. After all, Doyle had just stated that he didn't want to do the job of leading. But between the two of them…they could figure something out. She was nothing if not talented at breaking the rules.

His chest had stilled, breath held as he waited for her response, but now it seemed to expand like a goat-bladder balloon. As though she was the very air filling his lungs. And with a start of surprise Merida found tickles of laughter bubbling up and down her lips like pearls and gemstones. The two of them were grinning, madly, when at last Elinor and the royal steward found them there. A man on his knees, swearing fealty to his newfound Queen.

She accepted him as graciously as she could while beaming and chuckling, one hand reaching across the expanse to rest on his shoulder.

"Welcome, Blacksmith Doyle, tae the clan Dunbroch."



AN: Sooooooo. I feel a little sheepish posting this. Mostly because it seems like a lot of people have been wondering if this story might continue, and then when I was just about to follow through…I didn't. XD The truth of the matter was that I actually had the beginning and most of the end portion already hand-written. But then school got in the way and I didn't have time for it…blah blah blah. Until recently, when I was reminded of why I love Brave as much as I do. 3

So, here's the end result. I hope that it satisfies and makes up for the wait. I'm going to try to work on a few more of my Brave fanfics (no promises), but this one is wholly finished. :) So I really, really am hoping that you enjoy it. ^^ Also, I know that my Scottish isn't as authentic in this one for which I apologize. :S

Translation Time: (I only really included the ones that weren't as obvious)

"Ay michty ay. Braw regal, I noticed."—Yes indeed. Fine/Handsome (and) regal, I noticed.

"So tha's wot all the fykie haiverin' was aboot then, eh?"—So that's what all the messy/complicated talking nonsense was about then, eh?

"Ye imagined I'd gie the guid cuddie tae some puir commoner, Eh gather? Then come tae the Clan Dunbroch tae show off me skill an' conquests?"—you imagined I'd give the good horse to some poor commoner, I gather? Then come to the Clan Dunbroch to show off my skill and conquests?

"Eh got tae thinking aboot wot ye said regardin' cheenging ar fate. An' Eh decided tha' fit Eh love es makkin an' biggin. Nae ruling."—I got to thinking about what you said regarding changing our fate. And I decided that what I love is making and building. Not ruling.

"Yer richt in tha' ye have a blacksmith tha'll serve ye jes fain an', truth is, he is the best. An' A'll want tae lairn from the best, ye ken? So A'm tossin' off me ties tae join Dunbroch."—You're right in that you have a blacksmith that will serve you just fine and, truth is, he is the best. And I'll want to learn from the best, you understand? So I'm tossing off my ties to join Dunbroch.

"Me da doesna quite approve, but all will be well. I gev up me place as first bairn tae me brudder, Donnal. Ay wouldna be any guid a' leadin' anyway. Plus, he's already betrothed so ye wouldna hafta worry aboot nuther suitor. Me brudder has the 'earts o' the fawlk an' kin better ruel 'em that way-he's got a solid head en his shoulders. An' this way A'll serve MacGuffin by makin' ties another way."—My father doesn't quite approve, but all will be well. I gave up my place as first born to my brother, Donnal. I wouldn't be any good at leading anyway. Plus, he's already betrothed so you wouldn't have to worry about another suitor. My brother has the hearts of the people and can better rule them that way—he's got a solid head on his shoulders. And this way I'll serve MacGuffin (the clan) by making ties another way.

"Nae one in particular. Mae Mudder, assuredly, an' me brudders and sisters. But A'm nae the popular sort."—No one in particular. My mother, assuredly, and my brother and sisters. But I'm not the popular sort.