by Ruth Davis Hays 2011
Not satisfied with merely ogling ‘Khiall from afar, Lauralei seeks out answers about him from the Khnyghtsyde household. Her interest in him growing, she is plagued by one worry: Is he truly her stepbrother? No matter the answer, she must then decide what she will do about her feelings towards him…
PART FOUR — Illumination –
Tumbling into the spacious, stone kitchen that opened onto the back courtyard, Lauralei was met by number of servants that kept her father’s larder filled and his house clean.
Busy about the tables were the older cook, Fiona, with her large, rounded frame covered with smears of flour and a big, white apron as well as her second in command, Leela. The younger girl was leaner and would have been considered a beauty if it were not that she had spent most of her life at hard labor, serving her betters.
At the ovens, Lauralei saw another woman who had been hired while she was away and she could never remember the stern looking woman’s name. But, the two, younger milkmaids giggling at the open double door leading out to the courtyard, Lauralei had known most of her life. Carra and Melan were their names, and she knew too well at whom they were staring.
She was surprised to see her own mother, Sarrah, sitting on a wooden stool at the broad cutting table which took up the center of the large room. They all seemed to be enjoying some jovial conversation when she came in, and though the talk stopped to greet her, the two at the door were still grinning absurdly. Lauralei could hear the steady, heavy sound of ‘Khiall’s axe from outside.
Swallowing hard, she strolled in casually and seated herself next to her mother. Sarrah smiled at her with that loving yet simple way that she always did. She doted on her daughter and always encouraged her children, but she also spread her attentions to the young male Fae in the family that was not her son. Sarrah had always remarked on how special he seemed.
“What do you know of the Faerlins, mother?” Lauralei asked innocently as she picked up a bowl of beans to snap open and look helpful. The ladies around the kitchen smiled, and she got the distinct feeling that they were all preoccupied with the same subject.
“I know a little, dear. Ammarron speaks to me of their traditions and such.” Sarrah’s eyes cut over to gleam at Fiona, who chuckled under her breath and pounded a large lump of dough in front of her.
“How old did she say ‘Khiall is?” Lauralei asked wistfully, trying her best to sound innocently interested. The girls by the door quieted when the name of the dark-haired young man came up, and they moved closer to hear the conversation.
“Past his fourteenth Agen,” Sarrah said plainly. When asked what that meant, she told what she had learned from Ammarron. “By Fae reckoning, he is as a youth in his mid-teens, but an Agen is a cycle that spans ten years. So, he is actually just over one hundred and forty years old.”
Lauralei hummed with her contemplation. If he had been human, he would be considered a mature middle age at one hundred and forty. She had only lived a mere fraction of the time he had been on Jorthus, yet in some ways he seemed younger than her recently. She had always thought of him as an older brother, but in the six years she was away at school and he was trapped here at home, she had experienced so many new things that had been denied him.
Melan gasped at the news and looked over her shoulder to the open door. “Pity that he is so old. Imagine living that long.”
Fiona huffed in indignation at the comment. “Silly girl, you make it sound like eons! You forget that I’m one hundred and fifty myself. I may not be a spring chicken anymore, but I’m not senile!”
As the milkmaid stammered an apology, the wiser woman only waved it away and told her to be about her chores. Reluctantly leaving her vantage point in front of the door, Melan went to tend the butter churn in the corner.
With a quick mental calculation, Lauralei confirmed something that had nestled in the back of her mind for years, though she had never bothered to ask about it once she formed the suspicion. As a child, she had somehow assumed that ‘Khiall was a half-breed because of Ammarron being Fae and Solomen being human, but now it didn’t add up.
“There is no way that he could be a Khnyghtsyde, even if he were a bastard. He is almost as old as Father.” She spoke the affirmation aloud, and Sarrah nodded absently. The family had never mentioned the intricacies of their relationships to the children when they were too young to understand or care about such things. They had simply been raised as siblings with the two mothers, the father, and no questions.
“Yes, we never really spoke of their hardships,” Her mother said with a sigh. “Ammarron had him out of wedlock, but his father was not a human. Solomen assumed the role of father when he bound himself to Ammarron. And since she is his first wife, if he chooses to claim ‘Khiall as his legal heir, the boy will inherit before you or the twins. But, that has been a bone of contention for many years between Ammarron and Solomen. And they never had any children of their own.”
Lauralei was not interested in their domestic legal squabbles. She knew that in this country, being a girl, she would not inherit much. Her fortunes would come from a choice marriage. That is, if she is unable to escape to another land where she could gain adventure and treasure of her own. Her heart twisted briefly, begrudging this dream as it seemed to drift farther from her each day at home. As she settled her heart on the small adventures that she could conjure here in her present situation, her mind spun back to the mysteries of her stepbrother.
“What’s his real family name then?” she asked.
Sarrah’s small, fair brow wrinkled as she chopped vegetables and tried to think. “Oh, it’s rather long. I don’t remember how to say it. I know that she gave him Khnyghtsyde as a second name in honor of her husband, and his family name is Bailly-something.”
Her mother proved less than helpful in this area. She had never been good with other languages. That was why the family all called him ‘Khiall. This derivative Sarrah had come up with before Lauralei was born because she could not pronounce his name as it was in the faerlspeak.
“You should ask Ammarron if you want the Fae pronunciation and all.” Sarrah shrugged lightly.
“Why didn’t she and Father have any other children?” Lauralei wondered. Sarrah was unsure on this topic, but the cook standing near the oven spoke up.
“I heard that the Faery breeds can’t get children with humans,” She said in a crackled, dry voice.
Fiona retorted, “Then where do half-elves come from?”
This made the ladies nod in agreement that newest member of their staff did not know more than they about Faery facts. Suddenly, all grew quiet and attentive as a bare-chested ‘Khiall entered the kitchen, carrying an armful of cut logs for the oven. The atmosphere grew silent and hot. He glanced around nervously, his blue eyes falling on Lauralei and then he quickly dumped the wood and retreated back outside to retrieve his shirt.
Lauralei heard an audible sigh of admiration from all present. Then Sarrah commented in a low tone, “He is growing into such a fine young man. It will be hard to keep the young ladies from him.”
This brought giggles from the other women. Although relieved to know that she was not the only one who had noticed his magnetism, Lauralei was feeling a bit piqued that they were practically swooning over him. In the back of her mind, she did feel a little victorious in the knowledge that, of all the women present, he had chosen to kiss her. On the heels of that thought, her jealously wondered if perhaps he had already approached the other girls. After all, she had been away for six years.