by Ruth Davis Hays 2011
After being interrupted by violence and shoved into a small room in nothing but a sheet, Lauralei was forced to listen to mumbles and screams as her world spun ever further out of her control. Now, as the days turn to weeks, she is determined to find out what is going on in the Khnyghtsyde house…
The wives of Solomen Khnyghtsyde, he had married for a reason. They were beautiful, unobtrusive, and generally obedient ladies. They knew their place in the family. But, his daughter did not.
She could be as willful and as deceitful as her father. In the time after that horrible morning, Lauralei was ordered to stay in her room until Solomen could arrange her punishment. A marriage to an elderly, hunchbacked noble who was moving to his estate in Yarna, a southern peninsula on the continent of Myretrae, was not truly a punishment, but she viewed it as such all the same.
During the confinement, Sarrah brought her meals and news of the impending union, yet she begged for other news. News of ‘Khiall.
She had not seen him since he was dragged from her bed. Sarrah would smile sadly and shake her head. The household had been prohibited from speaking his name and forbidden to tell Lauralei anything of him.
Lying in bed for endless hours, her heart sick with fear and mourning for her young love, Lauralei almost dreaded hearing any definite word on his fate; for as long as she could hope that he was still alive, then in her mind it would be so. She trembled at the mere idea that it might be otherwise.
One afternoon, her soul could take the silence no longer. She dressed in breeches and tunic to step out on her balcony. The house was quietly absorbed in its own activities; servants cleaning, the twins out hunting, the wives embroidering in the salon, and she had heard Solomen leave that morning for his duties in town. It was her only time to investigate.
Her bedroom door was locked against her escape, but no one was expecting her to climb on the outer wall to another window. She knew that she could make it, for she had done it many nights in the past few months. Stepping onto the railing and gripping the uneven stones of the mansion edifice, she picked her way to Khiall’s room.
She hopped down into his empty chamber; the dust kicked up by her presence gave her a chill. The room had not been touched in days. The wrinkled covers on his thin bed still churned up from his last movements before coming to meet with her. It was eerily quiet. The ordered neglect of his belongings spurred her further to find out what had happened after their separation.
His door was not locked. She snuck out into the hall, listening for any sign of movement, and quickly moved along the wall to the stairwell that led up to her father’s laboratory. She climbed the wooden steps, her mind recalling the sounds of ‘Khiall struggling helplessly as he was hauled up here like a wild, captured animal.
Reaching the landing, the door looming before her, she glanced back down the tower to make sure no one was around. She tried the handle. Locked, she grunted in frustration. She had no clue as to how to pick a lock, that knowledge had been shamefully excluded from her university education. Another possibility came to her, and she scurried down to the second floor to pass into the northern wing of the house where her father’s office was located.
She had to pause several times, ducking into a shadowed doorway or behind a slender column as a servant passed by on their daily routine.
Her heart was pounding with exhilaration by the time she made it to Solomen’s office. This door was locked as well, but this time the door would not stop her. The windows stayed open this time of year and the library that stood next to his office was not locked. She got to the window, climbed easily across and entered the dark, silent office with a satisfied smile.
Unsure for what to look, she shifted through papers for anything that might shed some light. She glanced through several letters; her eyes following the words until she could guess the contents and then tossed one back onto the desk to find another.
This seemed to take forever as she pieced together her own fate from several exchanges with the Conte Monteforte. The other man’s letters were scrawled with the most frightening, arthritic scribble.
Then, finally, she saw something that seemed promising. A penned note from a monastery to the south, near a small town named Bulliaton. It did not specify names, but mentioned a ward, an illness, and the need for a greater donation in order to continue treatment.
The letter was dated only a few days ago. Lauralei could not think who else Solomen would have tucked away in need of treatment, so she hid the note among her clothes and headed back to the window. Anxious, she crept back into her room and pulled it out to read the details more carefully.
What she gathered from it was that the Blessed Brothers given charge of an unnamed person, delivered to them by one of Solomen’s servants, were concerned over the state of the individual. A wound was infected, and they were requesting to examine the blade that was used, if it was at all possible to attain. The note went on to say that the patient was suffering from a severe fever which was preventing nourishment. The Brothers were nervous that if the patient died while in their care there would be an investigation, and they were asking for compensation in that event.
To bribe the authorities, she smirked.
Her mind raced with the new-found knowledge and how to use it. She decided to get it to Ammarron. The faerlin matron would have the most influence. No matter what abuse her father heaped on D’harromarrie’khiall, he never raised his hand to any of his women and rarely to his own sons. Lauralei may still be in disgrace, but Solomen would listen to his wives.
That night, when Sarrah brought her supper, Lauralei asked her mother to give a note to Kora. It was a simple food request, she explained. Sarrah agreed. Inside the note to Kora was the letter from the monastery, wrapped in a note of concern addressed to Ammarron. Lauralei forlornly admitted to herself that she could not entirely trust her own mother with the knowledge that she had broken her confinement and was seeking aid for ‘Khiall, but she did trust Kora to relay the information without exposing her.
It worked, for shortly after that night, she was served breakfast by Kora, who was full of news. The elderly housekeeper told her all that she had been deprived of concerning the young fae boy.
Solomen had been fully prepared to kill his stepson, but Ammarron and Sarrah’s intervention on his behalf had stayed the patriarch’s hand. They had called the physician out of his laboratory after he had knocked ‘Khiall unconscious. The women pleaded with him not to do anything that would bring the Judges to the house; for Ammarron swore that she would give him over if he slew her son over an act of passion of which all men are guilty. So, he relented but was not satisfied. He disappeared into the tower’s top room again, and no one knew what would happen, yet they all heard the young man’s screams.
Ammarron locked herself in her rooms and refused to allow Solomen entrance. The menservants were called out on an errand that night, and no one in the house has seen any sign of ‘Khiall since.
Then Kora imparted what had passed since Ammarron read the monk’s letter…
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