by Ruth Davis Hays
Returning to his step-family’s estate in Culetan, ‘Khiall insisted on knowing the whereabouts of Lauralei. In answer, he is given a letter to read from her…
Third day of Kha’Nad
Dearest mother Sarrah,
I promised to write to you, and I have been remiss in that duty. Here at the royal house there are many things to keep my attentions, more so than there were at the Conte’s manor. Yet, that is no excuse.
I wish to have a visit when my time for mourning is ended, which unfortunately would mean missing the feast of Gaerm-Yul being shared with you. Rest assured that I will be celebrating it, though. It is one of the high holidays here at the palace! Perhaps I shall come home for the Ennaeg. I would dearly love to sing in the new year with family and old friends. Or, better yet, I will arrange to bring you, father, the twins, and Ammarron to my home in the Jeullion. Yes! That will be the plan for the new year. A new Ennaeg tradition in my new house.
Alas, that is more than two months away. However, sadness at our separation is not my reason for writing to you.
I wanted you to know that I have not been idle while at court. I am now on a first name basis with several of the Duchtes, Conteses, and even a lovely lady magda. She is a gnome, but not from the royal lines here in Quithai. She is from the continent of Cordilleran. I believe there is even a Chia-jenghir here, but he keeps to himself and no one admits to having spoken with him.
Also, I wanted to mention the biggest news.
You remember how I am forever sketching dresses and coats, all manner of clothes. I have found a way to put that dream to good use. Father never would pay for a dressmaker to create my original designs, but the Conte did. He let me fashion a whole new wardrobe while he was alive.
Well, I have been wearing my creations around court and have garnered ever so much attention! I have received numerous commissions for similar garments from my new friends. All the clothes are made in my little town, which is keeping my factories busy. The business has been so good that the couriers coming to pick up the garments stay and shop the town. It truly is becoming the “Jewel on the River”!
Of course, the majority of my popularity would have never been, were it not for my new dearest friend, Ramon. I will have to tell you all about him soon.
I had best make this short or else it will never fly! Haha! Give my love to the twins, Father, Ammarron, and all the staff. I miss you, mother.
Your most faithful daughter, Lauralei.
Refolding the letter, Sarrah gave a remorseful sigh. “You see? She does not even mention you, ‘Khiall. Lauralei has moved on with her life. I suggest you try and do the same. Just not in this household.”
“Yes, my son,” Ammarron said quietly, piling more pain onto Sarrah Khnghtsyde’s statement. “It is best to put your ill-conceived affair far from your mind. It would come to nothing but heartache.”
“You don’t think that’s exactly what it’s come to now?” ‘Khiall blurted out as he stood, towering over the two ladies. They appeared startled, which only added to the weight growing in his chest. He left the room at a swift pace and sought solitude. An echo of Sarrah’s voice followed his retreat.
“It would be best if you stayed out of sight when Solomen returns from his appointment,” she squeaked in her mouse-like tone.
‘Khiall had no intention of confronting his step-father yet. That was a meeting that would require his full control, and at this moment, he was flying in every direction. He ducked into the tiny closet under the main staircase and held the door tight closed. The space was rank with memories, but he was at a loss for another place to hide. Hide from his step-father; hide from disappointment in the mothers’ eyes at his unceremonious return; hide from the specter of guilt at harming Daviel; hide from the tears that threatened hearing Lauralei’s words excluding him. He just wished to vanish and feel nothing before he destroyed everything.
Thoughts of causing injury cascaded behind his closed eyes for several long moments, fueling a fire deep in his breast until he heard his mother’s soft voice outside the door.
“I know the ache of longing for someone you are forbidden to love, mi aver,” she whispered through the door slats. “It is better to…”
“What is a changeling, mi nomei?” He interrupted her plea.
She was silent for a heartbeat or two. “A myth, my son. Nurse tales of dark faeries and trollkin, nothing more. It has nothing to do with you.”
“You lie!” Eyes snapping open, he burst out of his cabinet to face her. “It’s all I’ve ever heard. Changeling! Fingers pointing, fear in their eyes as they shout it. What does it truly mean?” He yelled until she flinched. “Don’t give me the same old stories of babies switched in their cradles by gobberlings. I’m your son, so I must have had a father. Why will you never speak of him? What was he, mi nomei? Tell me! I beg of you. What am I?”
“You are a Bhaalaweiss. That is all that is important.”
“I need more! I almost killed my only friend by accident. Just as I hurt Galian, just like all those other times. Tell me more!”
Standing awkwardly to meet his eyes, she offered, “I don’t remember much of your Vaero, er… your sire. It was a dark and terrible night, my sweet. Don’t make me recall it just to tell you that you are my son. You’re a faerlin of great heritage…”
“I’m not a faerlin. If I were, we would still be living in the East Wood.” The words came as a sharp accusation rather than an inquiry. “Isn’t that true?”
“Don’t lie to me. You know I could hurt you.”
Her hand flew across his face. “What are you saying to me? I’m your mother!”
As familiar as he was with punishment, it was rare for it to come from his mother. “Forgive me, mi nomei.” He could feel blood rushing to his cheek. Though he towered over his mother, he shrank in her gaze. “I don’t know what is happening with me! I’m just… angry.”
His next question came out small and tight. “Why am I like this?” Crumpling into a ball, tears began to glisten the corners of his blue eyes. His head fell against the wall, his arms shrouding his face from the world. “I don’t understand what’s going on inside me.”
Ammarron wrapped ‘Khiall in her arms. “You are distraught over your sister. That is all.”
“She is not my sister, Nomei,” he insisted. “I love her.”
“I know. I know. But, she is a human.”
He flinched. “What has that got to do with it? Solomen is a human, yet you two are bonded.”
“I simply mean that neither of them will live as long as you or I,” she explained. “It does no good to become too attached. Your heart will feel broken now or later. Best to move past the pain as quick as possible. Find a new distraction.”
“Is that what you think she was? Just a distraction?”
“That’s all any love is, unless it is one of your own kind.” Her voice was wistful. “Only a faerlin can fulfill the true companionship of another faerlin.”
“But, I’m not a true faerlin, am I?” It was not a question. Without another word, he pushed against her and fled the house.
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