by Ruth Davis Hays 2011
The sprouting infatuation of young love can be tested by tragedy and harsh words, but Lauralei finds it hard to face some realities when it comes to her beloved step-brother…
An effortless week rolled by with the household growing calmer than it had been in years. Everyone seemed to notice the new mood, though few could guess the cause.
The fact that only two members understood the specifics of the fresh era did not escape the quick eyes and obnoxious ears of the twin Khnyghtsyde boys, Galian and Corian.
They had kept a close watch on their sister ever since she had come home from school. Unbeknownst to her, they shared with each other, as if it were a secret news item waiting to go to press, every time one of them saw her staring with moon-tranced eyes at their stepbrother. They followed her as she slipped in and out of the halls, making her way to the broom closet under the main stairway in the afternoons. Silently they listened to the quiet laughter and strange rustling noises that emanated from it until they grew bored and wandered away. They knew she was sneaking around to be with ‘Khiall, though the reason still escaped them. To the family, the fae boy had always seemed morose and unpleasant company.
Kora was preparing to go to market, when Lauralei approached her father with a request that ‘Khiall be allowed to accompany them. She pointed out coquettishly that he would be good protection, as his archery skills were far better than her own. Solomen gave her an unfathomable look, remarking that this was true since the young fae did not know his own strength sometimes.
Although the comment floated past her in incomprehension, she pursued the topic and finally won her argument by bringing to light how cooperative and unobtrusive ‘Khiall had been as of late. Solomen agreed that the boy had been making great strides towards obedience and earning his trust in the past few days; however, his past did still overwhelm his recent good humor.
Lauralei was forced to use her pleading eyes and pouting lip, which always worked on her father’s heart. He relented, allowing D’harromarrie’khiall to go to town again after his forty-year banishment. The condition he insisted on was that the twins go with them. To this, Lauralei agreed with a rough sigh.
They all traveled to town in relative silence. Kora was sitting bundled in her multicolored shawl on the springboard seat of the open wagon as Corian held the reigns and guided the oxen masterfully. He was a hearty boy of fifteen, as was his twin, but he gave off an air of greater maturity. Galian rode in the back of the wagon with Lauralei. He would sporadically leap up, bolting across the boards to point out things along the road, and causing the body of the wagon tilt. They all would humor him, though they knew he was only doing it to release his coiled up energy and gain attention.
Lauralei sat quietly, leaning her arms on the wooden sides, watching the country hills of Culetan province rattle by and trying her best to not look like she was eying ‘Khiall, who rode on horseback along side of them. For himself, ‘Khiall was keeping his attention on the road ahead. His steady hands guided the plodding, distracted gelding towards town with ease. The old horse was ornery with anyone else, but ‘Khiall had a special way with animals. Lauralei guessed that it had something to do with his faery heritage.
Though the center of town was only two hours from the house, Lauralei felt it took forever to arrive. The sun high, Culetan’s market was full, and Lauralei had a few silver saved that she was anxious to spend. As the twins tumbled from the wagon, D’harromarrie’khiall swung down from his saddle and immediately helped Kora out of her seat. Stiffly, she made it to the ground and smiled at him in gratitude. Lauralei skipped over and told her to have the twins help with any of the shopping needs, as she and her stepbrother were going to the cobbler for new shoes. Grasping ‘Khiall’s hand, she pulled him away before Kora could object.
Dragging him into the clothing district, where tailors had their finest offerings displayed about their storefronts for customers to peruse, Lauralei appeared to be the happiest girl on Jorthus. She was free from the house, had money, and was with her favorite person in the world. Nothing could spoil this day for her.
Their first stop was at a dressmaker’s shop. She adored the array of diaphanous garments displayed, fantasizing that she had someplace fancy to wear them. Seeing a particularly lovely one, she turned playfully to Dharromar and asked, “Would you like to see me in this one? Shall I try it on?”
He was only paying attention to her graceful movements and the sunlight on her dark hair, oblivious to the area in which they were wandering. The fact that she was talking about a dress came as a surprise. He shrugged noncommittally.
Giggling at his distracted nature, she headed into the store. As Mistress Khnyghtsyde entered with ‘Khiall in tow, the excited tailor attempted to ingratiate himself to her while keeping a fair distance from the fae. The thin, elderly human directed Laurelei to his constructed imitations of her chosen garment, all “ready to alter to fit” of course. Her smile grew with each touch on the silken fabrics. Although anxious to show off how lovely she would look in the dress, Lauralei could not help noticing as she disappeared in back to change that the shopkeeper was staring fearfully at ’Khiall. The attitude of this man drew a shadow of concern over her lightened heart and threatened to sour her mood.
Pushing the thought away as the deep rose colored silk reflected back at her from the mirror, she primped her hair and went out to parade in front of her precious Dharromar. She emerged from the dressing rooms with the gown flowing away from her curves like a wonderful dream, only to find the reticent tailor waiting behind his counter and her stepbrother standing outside the doorway like a dog that had been scolded.
She spun on the proprietor.
“What is the meaning of this?” She motioned to Dharromar. “I wish him to see me in this dress, why is he outside?”
“Please, young mistress.” The little old man bowed humbly to her. “Forgive me, but it made me nervous to have that changeling… I mean, the faerl in my shop alone.”
Lauralei was incensed. “What? Well, I never! Such impudence and bigotry, right here in Culetan.” She stormed back into the dressing area. Wriggling out of the dress immediately and returning in her old clothes, she tossed the frock at the tailor angrily. “It doesn’t suit me at all! And, I will never come in here again unless my brother is welcome as well!”
She exited quickly, taking ‘Khiall’s hand as she went.
The rest of the visit in town seemed to follow a similar pattern. She could scarce find a shop person that was comfortable with her fae step-sibling around. People passing them on the street, though she had grown up knowing most of them, would flash a quick smile to her and then, as their faces dropped, would scurry to give them a wide berth. The more this happened, the more irritated Lauralei became until finally giving up on a nice afternoon of shopping, they headed back to the wagon to rejoin the others.
In spite of her relentless inquires on what was causing this bigotry towards him, ‘Khiall was mum on the subject. He plodded along beside her, his face downcast. His attitude was one of acceptance more than irate indignation, which confused Lauralei. She could not understand why he tolerated this attitude from the people of Culetan. It was not as though they had never seen fae before. There were half-elves living in the region and he, himself, had lived here for over sixty years. Her anger simmered as she sat on the back edge of the wagon, legs swinging with the bumping and jostling as they headed towards home.
The afternoon was growing warm with no breeze to relieve them. Their purchased goods crowded around her, isolating her from all except her brother Galian. He sat with her for the most part, but he would occasionally leap off and jog around on the road, only to tear after them and jump back up. Each time he escaped to wear off some pent up energy, she would see ‘Khiall circle his horse around from the front of the cart to herd the boy back on course.
After an hour of this torture, she asked Galian about the strange behavior of the townsfolk. Grinning from ear to ear, he was not only eager to share knowledge that he had gained from eavesdropping on adults, but was happy to impart gossip about the wayward fae.
“It’s because of what he is,” Galian hinted.
“That’s absurd!” she scoffed. “There are other faerlins and half-elves around. They have never treated them differently. Culetan is not some backwoods hole of zealots.”
“But, he’s not faerlin or elfin,” he whispered mysteriously.
Crossing her arms, dubious of anything one of the twins had to share, she waited for him to end his dramatics and continue. He spun around to make sure of ‘Khiall’s location and then sat down to tell all he knew.
“I heard father say that ‘Khiall is actually a creature called a Changeling. A demon that masquerades as a fae only so it can feed on their young.” Seeing her scowl, he insisted, “It’s true! He just doesn’t know it. His mother kept it a secret from him. And, long time ago, before you were born, he used to attack the townspeople whenever the family went there. That’s why father didn’t allow him to go.”
Her silence gave Galian encouragement, and he elaborated his absurd story. “They say that once, years ago, ‘Khiall was allowed to attend the town’s school, but one day, out of the blue, he almost killed another youth. Tried to rip Jerem’s head off for no reason! Father had to put the boy back together, so he knows it’s true. That was when father forbid ‘Khiall to leave the estate. He was confined to his room for the longest time and the mayor wanted to send him to prison, but Ammarron talked them out of it. They said that if ‘Khiall does one more horrid thing, he’ll have to be taken away.”
Lauralei found herself reluctantly believing this tale despite her love for her stepbrother. She remembered nothing from him to warrant this, but she did know him to be an impassioned young man with many moods and a questionable ancestry. Still, her mind refused to accept these stories as anything except false gossip on the side of her scheming younger sibling.
“Now, why would he attack someone? Honestly, Galian, you’re as bad as a gossipmonger!” She shook her head, haunted by the faces of the shopkeepers, and turned to watch the horizon rumble by. Typically rational adults had watched ‘Khiall with loathing in their eyes. Something had definitely happened in that town.
Galian, frustrated by her rejection of his story, stood up with stiff resolve and poor judgment. He shouted towards the black-haired fae on horseback, “Ho there! Khiall! Eaten any tasty babies lately?”
Lauralei was staring agape at her little brother, appalled by his display, when she heard the horse’s hoof beats stop. The wagon rolled past the still form of D’harromarrie’khiall as he glared at the brash young human. Spurring the horse, he rode up next to them.
“What the hell did you just say to me?” he fumed, his face red with restraint. Lauralei saw a wild fire behind his fae eyes. His breath was short. Galian leaned over the wagon wall to provoke him again, needlessly.
“I was telling Lauralei how you try to kill people that know what you really are. And, if you don’t find a way to control yourself, you’ll end up on the scaffold.” He sneered at the fae.
‘Khiall’s glance cut over to Lauralei, then he returned his attention to the twin. “Stop it, Galian. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He warned through tight lips.
“What’s the matter? Afraid that if she finds out about you, she won’t want to ‘play’ with you anymore?” the boy poked.
“Shut your mouth,” The fae insisted, pulling his horse up closer to the wagon.
“Father said you were a daemon and not really Ammarron’s son at all. You’re not a fae. You’re a Changeling.”
“I am not! Shut up, you little weasel!” ‘Khiall roared at his tormentor.
Kora was turning around while hollering, “Alright! Settle down back there!”
Irritated, Corian began to reign in the oxen. He shouted at ‘Khiall to leave his brother alone. Lauralei was yelling at Galian instead; nevertheless, Galian merely laughed, giddy with all the attention and taunted ‘Khiall again.
“Changeling, changeling! You’re a fraekin’ faery-raper, flesh-eater, baby-kill…”
“Leave me alone!” ‘Khiall lashed out with one hand, stopping the tirade.
Her young brother’s blood flew onto Lauralei’s face and she screamed.
Corian dropped the reigns and leapt over the barrels into the bed of the wagon. Galian, four gashes across his throat and chin, tumbled off the back of the wagon into the dirt. ‘Khiall stared down at him, pulling his horse back as it tossed its head in objection to the chaos around it. Kora shrieked in fright. As Corian ripped off his shirt to wrap his twin’s throat, he shouted curses at ‘Khiall.
Lauralei, trembling with shock, could only help gather up her sibling and hold pressure on his wounds as they prepared to hurry home for help. Her tear-filled eyes turned up to ‘Khiall. He blinked at her, seemingly not comprehending what had just occurred.
Suddenly, Corian ran towards the horse and snatched ‘Khiall down from the saddle. Leaping up, the fae backed away uneasily, prepared for an attack with droplets of gore clinging to his fingernails. The twin ignored him, moving to toss his ‘other half’ onto the horse’s back and then climbed up himself.
“Lauralei,” her brother ordered, a greater maturity about him, “Get Kora and the wagon back to the house! I’m taking Galian on ahead to father! And, ‘Khiall…you can go back to Hell!”
Corian rode off at a gallop, cradling his wounded brother tight. Kora was trembling and sobbing helplessly as Lauralei climbed up next to her. Gathering the reigns, she looked down at ‘Khiall. His eyes were searching her face for censure or absolution.
“Don’t worry,” she muttered so Kora wouldn’t hear. “I’ll tell father the truth of what happened here.”
As she left him to walk home, something in ‘Khiall’s expression told her that this statement did not bring him much solace.