Fionn had been dreading the confrontation with his mentor Alex ever since he had decided to use his fledgling powers unsupervised - and in defiance of the mage's orders. And indeed, Alex had been waiting for Fionn's return - and after a examination to make sure his apprentice had suffered no harm, the older mage had ripped into the young man.
The tongue-lashing had been fierce, exhaustive, long and delivered at a considerable volume, the last element being the one most uncommonly displayed by Alex.
Knwoing full well that he had acted against his mentor's orders, Fionn accepted the rebuke demurely - but worried; Alex's disapproval was one of the few things Fionn found terribly hard to endure, having formed a strong bond with the older mage. His natural intelligence sharpened and magnified by a mage's training, Fionn could easily have listed reasons and justifications for his actions, argued about the necessity of 'misdeed'; what were orders compared to the threat to one of Pentingham's children's life ?
He could have - but he didn't. And this willingness to take responsibility for his actions was what finally made Alex stop with a satisfied nod.
"So... you learned the final lesson; You can do what you want - if you are willing to pay the price.
I'm proud of you... brother."
The days and weeks following Mary's rescue, Fionn had been running the gauntlet; never having liked being the focus of attention, Fionn now suddenly was now one of the four (or three, since Marry displayed a certain... protectiveness for Harold) most popular young men in the city: He had spoken with Braxidezil, bargained with a Fae and rescued Mary from Pixies. And he was a mage
As if those were not enough, a third factor made him even more interesting to Petingham's young women: He was still a virgin - an innocence which appealed both to women ten, fifteen years his senior and women his own age in a similar situation.
In the beginning, the female attention had been subtle enough that Fionn could pretend not to note the gazes and flirting suggestions. That phase didn't last long, however, and first subtle, then more direct pressure from older people soon made Fionn's pretended ignorance first hard, then impossible.
Fionn felt cornered; whenever he left the one sanctuary left to him - Alex's house - he had mothers telling him to come by and meet their daughter, fathers telling him how much pleasure was waiting to be experienced, same-aged young men uneasily taunting him - some good-natured, some with a definite undertone of envy - and same-aged young women finding excuses to talk to him and, more and more often, touch him in seemingly innocent ways.
Alex and Brighid - tough pregnant herself - were less or more the only people in Petingham that never brought up the topic of fathering children.
In the end, it was neither one of those flirting shyly nor one of them almost trying to push and drag him into The Hut that completed Fionn's transition from adolescence to adulthood but someone nearly as nervous and reluctant as himself: Bianca.
Fionn 'met' her when quickly rounding a corner in order to evade a determined young woman chasing him and careening into the young woman who, carrying a large basket full of cloth, was sent sprawling.
Embarrassed, Fionn apologized and helped Bianca collect the cloth. Insisting on carrying the basket for her in recompense, the young mage walked Bianca to her home (leaving behind the determined young woman responsible for the chance meeting with a sour expression on her face).
Bianca, equally embarrassed by receiving the attention of one of the most sought-after eligible young men, walked beside him, unable to utter a single word before the two arrived at Bianca's home, where her manners finally overcame her nervousness and she asked whether he'd like to stay for lunch. And to his own surprise, Fionn accepted the invitations.
Maybe it was because Bianca never tried to push him to do anything or even tried to flirt or maybe it was because he saw a kindred spirit in her.
Whatever the reason, Fionn started to see Bianca more and more often (and she him) - and as the outside pressure on Fionn (and Bianca, as the young mage later learned) lessened, he found himself missing her when she was somewhere else, found himself daydreaming (and one one or two occasions, dreaming
) about her.
Maybe the thrill of the moment was enough to overcome the nervousness in younger boys or maybe it was their comparative lack of knowledge as opposed to his considerable theoretic understanding but for Fionn, the prospect of going into The Hut with Bianca was daunting. And when he thought about the feast, the advice, the hunt and all the rest that surrounded the first time, the prospect changed from being daunting to being outright terrifying.
Finally, Fionn sought, mortified, advice and assistance from his mentor and - to the him - surrogate-father Alex. Knowing and understanding his former apprentice better than probably anyone else in the village, the older mage did help the young couple, for Bianca shared Fionn's trepidations to a certain degree.
The feast was a small, seemingly spur of the moment affair with many villagers only learning about it afterwards, though both Fionn and Bianca had invited a couple of friends and relatives. The hunt was similarly different and more of a stroll.
Satisfied, that convention and tradition were finally being followed, neither Bianca nor Fionn were confronted about their secretiveness, unlike Alex, who received sharp words from several directions.
The older mage, however, wasn't really concerned about the criticism, dismissing it with "...if you're willing to pay the price."
when Fionn apologized to his mentor for the trouble he had caused him.
The months since had been quite; Fionn and Bianca enjoyed each other's company and fulfilled their tasks in the village. That there was no sign of pregnancy, so far, didn't trouble the young couple so far, though silently, both had considered speaking to Hana about it.
The only occurrence of note was Fionn's move out of Rňs' and Alex's houses - both of which had become his home during the previous years - and into a house on his own.
The muttering and head-shaking the young mage's decision caused didn't matter to Fionn; everything has a price - and for some quite and peace (and space for his studies and tasks), that disapproval was a small enough one...