by R L Davis Hays 2016
The end of the year is here, so I will give you an extra treatment: the last two chapters of this Jorthian short story. ‘Khiall has been splashed with a cold reality; the fact that Lauralei had a life outside of their love cannot be denied. Will he be able to find her or his own path?
A whisper of snow had veiled the grasslands around the Khnyghtsyde estate by the time ‘Khiall had gathered his wits and returned to the walled kitchen garden. Dark footprints traced his path back to the distant forest where he had sought solitude for the better part of the day. The warning of nightfall had urged him to venture to the house once again, despite the knowledge that his step-father might be home from town.
Dinner preparations were lighting the windows as he approached the weathered back door and the moons, Unara and Rhaes, were tinting the fields lavender as they rose. ‘Khiall caught the scent of baking venison and sweetbread on the chilly breeze. His stomach issued a loud whine in anticipation.
Entering the kitchen brought an unexpected storm of welcoming hugs from the housemaids and lady cooks. His hands were filled with muffins and late-harvest fruits as they insisted he sit on a tall, lopsided stool and regale them with news of his recovery at the monastery. He protested at first out of a sense of discomfort with the memories and the strange new familiarity, but after several failed attempts to get up and leave the room, he had a growing sense of something else.
“I want to speak with mi nomei… I mean, my mother. Where is she?”
Old Fiona gave it away with a glance to Leela who, in turn, cast her eyes at the doorway leading to the hall. It was involuntary, not a message to him, which raised his hackles even more. Leaping off the stool, he dropped a half-eaten pastry on the counter. A couple of the cooks tried to block his exit, but he pushed past them roughly. Their startled yelps faded behind him as he skidded from room to room, looking for Ammarron.
He came across the housemistress, Kora, and his step-mother, Sarrah, before bursting in his mother’s bedroom to find she was packing a bag with clothes and jewelry. She gasped as he entered, the door bumping the paneled wall with a heart-stopping bang. The garment she was holding fell from her grip. Her troubled eyes enveloped him in their emerald shroud.
“What is going on, mother?” he asked, his breath coming in gulps from his dash through the house. “Why are you packing up?”
“Ah, mi aver, you are back.” She swooped upon him, gathering him into the low candlelight of her room and shut the door. Ushering him to the bedside, she closed the shutters and drapes of each window before giving him her distracted attention. “Where did you run off? You worried me.”
“Nowhere,” he protested, staring down into her satchel. “Answer my question, though. Why are you packing up?”
“I… we need to take a trip,” she began as she tossed more items to the pile on the bed, “You need to get your belongings together as well. Quickly now.”
Sitting on the end of the mattress, he frowned up at her. “A trip? Where? Why?”
“So many questions, my son. Why not trust me as once you did?”
Remembrances of countless sudden travels flashed through his mind with her words, and his heart became anxious. Lauralei’s note mentioned a reunion with the family at the new year; it was his best opportunity to see her again. Was his mother sabotaging it?
“No,” he said, standing once more. “I don’t want to leave. Not now! Lauralei–”
“You must put her out of your mind, my child.” Ammarron stopped to grasp his shoulders, her fingers digging into him much too hard. Her face was stern and resolute. “We… have to leave tonight.”
“Is it Solomen?” ‘Khiall asked, his heart already firm with an idea of how to handle her husband. “Are you trying to keep me from him? Because–”
She interrupted him, shaking his arms. “No! Trust me. You cannot be found. Help me pack your things. They will be finished searching the property any moment.”
“Who? Who is here?”
His protests stopped. Her expression stopped them. A small, frightened corner of his memory recognized the look in her eyes. He had seen it each time she had upturned their lives and searched for a new haven. It had been many decades since he had seen it, and he had thought it was gone forever. Now, it had resurfaced and he knew what it meant.
“Faerlins from the East Wood? Here?” he asked, his voice low. “What is it that they want, mi nomei? They’ve left us alone this long, why can’t they leave us here in peace? I don’t understand! Why do they follow you? You’ve honored the banishment. We haven’t broken any laws. Why bother us now?”
“Hurry, dear. We do not have time to discuss this.” She insisted, “I will tell you on the road.”
“You’ve said that before, but you never do!” He spun out of her grip, heading for the window, which agitated her greatly. “Mother, why do we always have to run?”
“Because I do not want to lose you, my son!” she shouted in desperation as she moved from dresser to wardrobe.
“Why? What will they do? Where will they take me?” Following her through the room, he caught her shoulder and turned her to face him. “Mother! Am I in danger?”
“’Khiall, dear, please help me.” Her voice was only a breath.
He shook her. “Answer me, Mother. Why do they want me? Tell me why!”
“You are a Changeling! That’s why.” Her words cut the cold air in the room, piercing his heart. Ammarron had never slapped that label on him in his entire life. She shrank from the brief silence between them and said sternly, “For the Guardian’s sake, hurry and pack. We must leave this house.”
His head began to wag back and forth as he stepped backwards to the door. Visions of this ritual abandonment of one life for the unknown swam before him, back and back to his earliest memories. He grew steadily younger in those visions, though Ammarron remained the same. Always running. Not for fear of her own life, but for his. ‘Khiall’s words were slow, his eyes never leaving her face. “No. I don’t want to leave here now. They can’t make us leave. I won’t let them.”
With the last sentence, he spun on his heel and fled the room before she could utter another word. Ammarron stood still, staring at the empty doorway for a few heartbeats, and then she returned to her packing with determination.
Alone in the front parlor with a travel trunk and luggage stacked around her, Ammarron sat shadowed in a large chair as she penned a note to Solomen. She had never written a farewell note before, though to be honest, she had never shared her life with a human for so many years before. A note had never been necessary. Now, however, a silent disappearance seemed rude.
She was not the type to leave things dangling in the wind if it could be avoided. Propriety was ingrained in her. Though there had been times when she was forced to go against her breeding and be rude. Solomen did not deserve that. He had been rough on her bastard son in recent years, yet she knew him well enough to know that if she left with no word, he would hunt for her.
The man did so enjoy hunting.
Composing her explanation filled the time as she waited for D’harro’mar’rie’khiall to return from… wherever it was he had run to sulk. She understood his reluctance to leave this house more than he probably suspected. It did not change the fact that it was imperative that they leave, though.
Pausing to twirl the quill with lost thought, Ammarron watched the tiny flame on a thin candlestick beside her. It fought the gathering darkness with a valiant dance. The hour growing long and making her pulse throb in fear that someone would arrive at the house to interrupt their departure. Solomen or the Blessed Fathers looking for ‘Khiall or the faerlin Emmisarian Guard who had questioned her earlier that afternoon. She dreaded seeing any of those possibilities coming through the door before her son.
As she thought on him, Ammarron glanced to the far window. The moons traced violet lace on the frosted panes backed with blackness beyond. Night filled the parlor, pregnant and ready to bare. The clock chime startled her.
“It’s all right, Mother. You can unpack our things.”
The calm voice from the nearby archway made her spin. He stood in silhouette. The lamplight from the hall behind him blinded her for a moment, the glow from her candle blocked by the high back of her chair.
“Have they gone?” she asked.
“They are gone.”
Standing, her mind on getting her baggage to the family coach, Ammarron folded up her note and wrote her husband’s name on it. “We still must get far from here while they are away, while Solomen is away. The Guard knows I am here, and they will return to search for you again. They did not believe my excuses. I despise lying, however it is necessary at times.” She gestured to the trunk. “Bring this to the carriage, will you? The house staff knows we’re leaving and have sworn to me their silence.”
“We don’t have to run this time. The Guard can’t hurt us.” He moved into the draped room and perched on a corner desk. Her eyes were on him now. He was a shadow among shadows. A soft noise accompanied his movements. A sucking sound. She raised the candle high, illuminating his blood-soaked form; his teeth working absently at bits of flesh under his nails as he licked and tasted each finger as if he had enjoyed a juicy meal.
Ammarron nearly dropped the golden candle holder.
“What have you done?” she whispered. Revulsion rose to the top of her throat when she saw his eyes alight with excitement at the question.
“I took care of things. They are gone. We can stay.” He shrugged. “It was easy.”
His eyes stayed on her deepening frown, a little smile playing at the edges of his mouth. “Believe me. Why don’t you settle down and rest, I’ll unpack our bags later,” he said. “Dinner is almost ready.”
“What did you do to them, ‘Khiall?” Her voice was faint and she struggled to keep it even.
“I stopped them. That’s all. You should have seen it. It all happened so smooth and fast.” His impassive stare. His composed figure. He gave no sign to indicate if he felt any remorse at his actions. She had taught him the Laws all his life. Yet, there he sat with evidence of having harmed another being splattered across his clothing and not seeming to care at all about the hurt he might have caused. Horror washed over her face. He asked, “What is it? Why do you stare at me so? They can’t take you away from your home or me away from you. Not now.”
“Did you kill those Fae soldiers?”
“I…Yes, but I hid the bodies, buried them…”
“How could you?” she nearly shrieked it at him.
“I did what you wanted me to do!”
Her mouth dropped open, aghast at how he could have twisted her intentions. “I…never…”
“You said that we were in danger,” he accused, jumping off his perch finally. The fire in his blue eyes rising high. “You said they would take me because I’m a bastard. You were prepared to flee your home like a fugitive because they were coming for me, isn’t that right, Nomei? Because I’m a Changeling and you’re a faery harlot.”
“Strike your tongue!” she hissed indignantly. “Long ago, that might have been the case, but I do not know if they would have threatened in this day and…”
“Then why did they frighten you so, Mother?” He was shouting and a clanging from the back of the house indicated that others had heard their argument. “You were pulling us out of the one real home that we’ve had in my whole life because you were afraid that they might question us? NO. You were terrified. That implies that they were a threat to us… to me! You wanted them to go away and I did that. Why do you act so strangely?”
“You… you are a monster,” she claimed, turning to leave the room. “I cannot protect you from this. You have gone too far. This is not a fight at school or thievery from a store. You’ve taken life. Faerlin life! I cannot hide this.”
He pursued her into the foyer. “I am not asking you to hide anything.”
Heading up the staircase, she was no longer speaking to him but to herself. “They’ll find out and take you away; they’ll kill you this time and I won’t prevent it. I cannot, ‘Khiall.”
“Mother? What are you saying?” Leaving hand stains on the banister as he followed her, his voice was incredulous. “You are going to turn me in to the authorities?”
“I hid you as a baby to protect you,” she was mumbling, refusing to look at him. “Kept you from the world’s punishment in the past hoping against hope that you would change… But, you haven’t. You never will. You are the daemon that they said you were.”
He stopped halfway up the stair. “Mother?” he called.
“Get away from me!” she turned and screamed at him. “Monster! You are an evil thing! Get out! I will protect you no longer!”
They both saw the household servants crowding into the entry, all eyes on ‘Khiall, all ears waiting on orders from their mistress. The man-servants were armed.
‘Khiall glanced from the group to Ammarron and back. “Mother, don’t do this,” he urged, his voice holding a quaver. “Please, don’t turn me out. I have nothing. I did this for you. For us! Don’t forsake me. I need you. Please, help me.”
For the space of a breath, she hesitated. His eyes held hope. Then she shook her head, her green eyes closing.
“Get out.” Her voice was firm.
The burly servants pounded up the stairs to grab ‘Khiall, but he was not moving. Shock had rooted him to his spot.
The words were so soft, only the ears of a fae could have heard them.
The pronouncement was final. Thick human arms encircled ‘Khiall and dragged him, stumbling, out the front door. A tickle of snowflakes whirled around him as he hit the ground and saw the house blocked against his reentry. Four of the fellows plucked wooden canes from the front stoop and herded him towards the gate.
“Now you won’t have to leave your home, Nomei!” ‘Khiall shouted to her, hoping to be heard over the staff clambering to her rescue inside. He spied the scene, bright and hectic, through the rapidly closing door. “I did it for you! Please don’t push me out!”
His pleas struck the dark hard barrier, its iron hinges and heavy lock shutting him away from the only savior he had ever truly had. The squealing gate was shut, his home on one side and him on the other. The winds tugged at the flimsy gray monastic uniform he still wore. It had been less than a day since his arrival. Now, he was lost again. His voice splintered the night.
There came no response.
Less than a day later:
“The winds will take us far today, lads.” The captain stood with one leg perched on the side gate, inspecting the struggle of the silken mass above them. “Don’t think we’ll need the magda’s help, just keen sailing.”
‘Khiall approached the captain, his head down. He was hoping his hair would hide his ears, but the wind mocked him with relentless exposure.
“‘Hoy!” The captain greeted him as he stepped onto the barge. “Where you headin’, faery boy?”
“Jeullion unda Revota.”
“That’s a fair distance. You got enough coin?”
“I have nothing,” he stated. Having only the clothes he was wearing when he left the estate, the mid-winter air bit his skin and made him shake.
“Payment or work. We don’t do charity. You ever worked a barge before?”
“Yer hands don’t look like they see hard labor much. You know anything about sailing? Silks? Or ever fixed a broken rail?”
“I’m afraid not, captain.”
“Then what are you good for, faery boy?” An incredulous laugh rang out from the stout figure.
I can kill with my bare hands, ‘Khiall heard a voice quip in the back of his mind. He kept his lips closed.
“What kind of faery are you? Gobberlin?”
“Not with those ears!” The insult rang louder than was meant. ‘Khiall began to walk back down the gangplank when the captain saw the err. “Don’t run from an ol’half-dravan salt like me. I’m no respecter of persons. Yer bloodline means naught here. You need a ride, let’s see what kind of work we can find for you. Yer build is fine, how are you between the sheets?”
‘Khiall raised his eyes from the captain’s short brown leather boots at which he had been staring and took in the thick curves and tanned face of the captain. She had made an effort to tuck her unruly short curls under a large hat and was relatively clean with only a hint of a thin mustache to betray her dravan heritage. With a shrug, ‘Khiall offered, “I’ve been known to make girls smile.”
“In that case, I’ll need a deposit to prove you are good for the trip. Corvo,” she shouted to a dark man nearby, “Take over the welcome for a pause, will ya? I’ve got a down payment to handle.”
The crew within earshot eyed ‘Khiall and chuckled.
Stepping down the light wood staircase, he followed her through the hold and short corridor of cabin hatches. She removed her broad hat in the small space as she opened the door at the far rear of the craft. The cabin was economical and airy. Thin hull ribs formed the skeletal walls and opened onto windows that were merely holes in the stretched parchment skin enclosing them. It was the most unusual vehicle he could have imagined journeying in, though they were quite commonplace on the plains of Verdaillia. He had never seen one from the inside.
“What’s yer name? Mine’s Captain Ferde. But, for the time, you can call me your Mistress.”
“D’harro’mar’rie’khiall Khnyghtsyde Bhaalaweiss, mistress.”
“White Stars, but that’s a mouthful! If you want ta get anywhere in this saphien world, I’ll advise you now to cut that down. Only one I recognized was Khnyghtsyde. I’d stick to that. Now, hurry and depants yourself, faery boy. Let’s take a look at yer tusha. See if it’s worth the price to Jeullion. Hurry now, I have a ship to sail!”
Turning away, he slid his garments off.
“There’s a tusha round enough for slappin’! Spin so I can see what tackle you bring. Hmm, short stocked, are ya? You’re hiding the goods! If you need encouragement, come on over here and bury yer face in these bags or else I’ll lose my patience and strap on a rod to cork you instead!” She laughed.
He did not appear self-conscious. In fact, her drawing attention to him caused his loins to stir. He heard her chuckle turning in tone and she purred, “’ere ye go, gobberlin. That’s a masthead I can hoist!”
“Permission to climb aboard, mistress?” ‘Khiall’s lip curled at the edge.
“Permission granted already!”
Bundled in thick woolen wraps borrowed from the crew, ‘Khiall leaned on the wooden guardboard, his eyes tearing up from the constant assault of wind. The deck was a carnival of moving beams, gears, and flapping sails. All the parts, more than seemed completely necessary, worked and creaked to propel the craft across the emerald imitation sea. Impossibly blue skies carved a jagged horizon, promising the eastern cities within the week.
The course was slow heading northeast as the winds were want to force them west. The behemoth slid over the grasses, its rhythmic webbed arms stroking the breeze both horizontal and vertical. A bizarre wood and cloth beetle crawling between ancient rocks with a perpetual grace.
Khiall had earned his passage, evidently. There were no complaints from the captain. She taught him much about pleasing a woman, but nothing about how to keep his balance on this gently lurching monstrosity she piloted. The trip was rigorous and the crew left him alone, aside from bestowing the nickname ‘Gobber’ upon him. They were convinced that his father was ogre kin of some kind, but bets were still being laid.
Sighing, he plucked and peeled apart a small nut he had stored in his pocket. A sample of the handful of dry rations that he had earned by scrubbing the galley. His fingers fought to get the nutmeat into his mouth against the numbing air. After success gave him something to chew, ‘Khiall stared down at his hands. Was that the odor of blood on them still?
He covered his mouth and nose to inhale deeply. Wool and flesh. No blood.
“Ya going ta hurl, Gobber?”
Looking over to the sail-smith who had spoken, ‘Khiall pulled his hands down to his pockets and shook his head. Most of the people aboard were friendly, laced with a subtle reserve.
If only they knew, he thought with a slight frown. Even the dravan captain had not guessed his secret, no matter how candid they were together.
Using swigs of Apthia water and imagining lapping the warm blood from the pulsing neck wound on one of the dying faerlin sentries, he would service the captain dutifully each day until they both laid panting and tangled in her sheets.
“Where were ya, Gobber?” she asked once, her thick fingers toying with his dark hair. “Yer thoughts are not on this ‘ere ship.”
Choosing to bury the gory fantasy that disturbed him on a deeper level, he had turned on her with an inquisitive smile. “Why do you think I’m a gobberling?”
She had waved it dismissively from the air. He insisted, curling closer to her.
“Your strangeness. I’ve seen many a folk, but not a one like you. Yer faery, that’s fer sure. But, what kind? Not elf, dravan, faerlin, ogre, nor trollkin.”
“So, my mother was got by a gobberling?” He laughed. His mind scratched at this theory, digging for any possibility of truth while his lips feigned good humor.
“It’s not impossible, but mayhaps it is.” She contemplated her assessment with a bit more seriousness. “What’s it matter? You’re here and soon you’ll be where you want to go. Ain’t that all that’s needed in life?”
Her voice was gruff and distant. She was falling asleep. ‘Khiall slipped from her bed and dressed. Hunger was getting the best of him and he needed some fresh air. On deck, huddled in the mismatched wrappings, he glanced at the crew.
Would they have offered a ride to him had they seen the shredded corpses he left buried behind the wall of the Khnyghtsyde estate? Would anyone ever know about those sentries? His mother may keep their secret, but what if the bodies are found or the Emmisarian Guard noticed the men missing?
‘Khiall turned his back to the other travelers, his night-blue eyes locking on the eastern skies. The snapping silks and undulating fields whispered sweet promises of freedom. No stone boundaries, no confining walls. He was finally released upon the world.
Whatever shall happen when he reached Jeullion? Could he find Laure and would she join him on the run? Would he tell her what happened, and if he did, would she ever look at him the same? He wondered. The weight of his action grew heavier with each thought.
He decided at that moment to never tell Laure this secret. Even if all the world looked at him and saw something vile, he wished for her to see only … her Dharromar.
Yet, so much had changed. Could he truly hide it from her?
“Jeullion unda Revota on the horizon!” a voice shouted from the crow’s nest. ‘Khiall looked up instinctively.
“Be there by morn,” the captain said to him, her face at his elbow suddenly. She had her eyes on the endless hills. “New town, new journeys to make. You be ready?”
His head began to wag from side to side. Her words were polite conversation to anyone else, but to him, they bore the hint of an ultimatum. His heavy feet felt rooted to the boards as Lauralei’s letter echoed in his mind; the absence of his name in it poisoned his heart. He was weary of denying its power over him. It had lurked in the shadows for days. The closer the city came, the more he questioned his motives.
It does no good to become too attached, his mother had said. Best to move past the pain as quick as possible. Find a new distraction.
Breathing deep in the winter air, ‘Khiall let it freeze his insides and encapsulate the memories of Laure with its tender frost.
“Captain, I’ve changed my mind.”
“So say you.” She nodded, her face squinting up at him. “Where yer headin’ then?”
“That depends. Where does this ship go?”
“Wherever the wind blows, boy,” she said with a slap on his rump. “What say you? The Jeullion?”
“Don’t stop on my account, captain.” He closed his eyes, shutting out the view. “I don’t think that’s my destination any longer.”
“So say you?” Her question searched for his certainty.
“Aye,” ‘Khiall said, turning away from the railing. “So say I.”
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